science in blue

Is intelligent design science?

In Commentary, Evolution/Creation, Foundations, In the News, Science by Steve WilkinsonLeave a Comment

Why is it that Christian apologists have to deal with this topic so often? It seems that whenever I’m in discussion over just about ANY apologetics related topic, I’ll typically be challenged by someone over the topic of I.D. as a kind of ‘gotcha’ move. You see, < sarcasm > I must not be rational… after all, I (as a Christian) must believe the whole Intelligent Design thing, which IS NOT science. And, as we all know, if it isn’t science, it isn’t rational. < /sarcasm >

There are many problems here, such as their failure to deal with the original topic (diversion tactic, maybe?). But even if we chase this rabbit trail, we’ll soon find we’ve run into a wall. The ‘NOT science’ position won’t budge, and you will soon be served a generous helping of the Genetic Fallacy, along with sides of Guilt by Association and Circumstance Ad Hominem.

What they won’t typically do, is give you a good reason WHY intelligent design doesn’t qualify as science. This is because, for most people, their reaction and response have little to do with their understanding of science (or philosophy of science). Instead, the reactions come from a USA District Judge (John E. Jones III) who was so out of his depth in commenting on his 2005 decision (Kitzmiller v. Dover), that he simply copied what Eric Rothschild, the ACLU attorney, told him to say. From that point on, I’ve heard this, “Intelligent design is NOT science” being parroted by atheists and skeptics everywhere.

But every so often, you’ll come across someone who does give you some reasons. They will probably say something to the effect that intelligent design is not falsifiable, that it produces no peer-reviewed scientific results, or that it stops the advance of science. The first, even if it were true, is still a matter of debate in philosophy of science, the second is just plain false, and the third, silly.

These people don’t seem to understand that science is not some magical, master discipline that we’ve finally perfected in the last few decades by adding methodological naturalism to the mix. Science is simply a disciplined approach to uncovering the truth about the world around us, typically focused on the empirical. It is actually part of a set of overlapping disciplines with this common goal (for example, philosophy, which focuses more on rational argument and logic). How this goal and discipline is best accomplished is part of an ongoing debate within the philosophy of science. It seems few today, even among scientists, have much of this background knowledge.

For example, the constraint of falsifiability was made popular by Karl Popper but seems in opposition to Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm-shift view. Both were thrown into question by Imre Lakatos’ competing and progressive research program model of science. Paul Feyerabend would seem to throw all of these models into question. To put it simply, exactly how science should operate, isn’t nailed down.

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga, after discussing some of the proposed constraints placed on science over the years, had this to say:

“Observing methodological naturalism thus hamstrings science by precluding science from reaching what would be an enormously important truth about the world. It might be that, just as a result of this constraint, even the best science in the long run will wind up with false conclusions.”

Ultimately, it tends to come down to one’s metaphysical presuppositions. Methodological naturalism is NOT the neutral position it masquerades as. This became apparent in a recent debate between Dr. Michael Ruse and Dr. Fazale Rana over the origin of life. You can watch the entire event HERE, but skip to 2:04:11 and then to 2:16:27 and listen to Dr. Ruse’s answers to the audience questions. He would be willing to entertain intelligent design if we were talking about aliens, but not something supernatural. He then admits that his primary problem with supernatural is the problem of evil. The problem isn’t science here folks!

I’ve often posed a related challenge in return when I’ve faced the intelligent design is not science claim. Most scientist-types love SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence). The problem is, how can SETI be science if intelligent design is not, as both are looking for intelligence within naturalistic data. If intelligence and information content cannot be adequately detected, then how will these people know if they ever find E.T.? I have never gotten a serious response to this, having posed it for years, until recently.

An atheist pointed me to this article by Seth Shostak of SETI Institute. In it, he argues that intelligent design proponents are misguided in making such a comparison because, 1) they don’t understand what SETI is really looking for, and 2) what SETI is looking for isn’t complex, but artificial.

His first point has a bit of weight, as there may be some confusion here. SETI isn’t to the stage in their investigation that intelligent design researchers are, in that SETI is still looking for something to actually look at! So, yes, at this point, they simply are looking for ‘artificial’ narrow-band signals which would be ‘carriers’ to the actual data they WOULD certainly analyze if they ever find one. When I (or other ID proponents) make the parallel, it is future analysis of such a find we’re referring to, primarily.

But, his use of the term ‘artificial’ for his second point is more than a bit curious. What does artificial mean? The New Oxford American Dictionary says, “made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally.” (1)New Oxford American Dictionary 3rd edition © 2010 by Oxford University Press, Inc. In other words, created, not natural. He has essentially replaced design with a term less likely to seem parallel due to the connotations of contrived, fake, or even false, associated with artificial.

Further, he seems to have confused the term ‘complexity’ with what William Dembski really means when using it. He says that what SETI is looking for is actually not complex, but a simple, “organized and optimized” signal found within an unexpected environment, or “out of context.” While organized and optimized certainly sound rather designed to me, let’s compare this to what Dembski is really saying:

“Thus in general, given an event, object, or structure, to convince ourselves that it is designed we need to show that it is improbable (i.e., complex) and suitably patterned (i.e., specified). … The ‘complexity’ in ‘specified complexity’ is a measure of improbability.”

Isn’t ‘suitably patterned’ a bit like ‘organized and optimized,’ and ‘out of context’ a bit like ‘improbable?’ These two concepts sure sound similar to me… and I guarantee that if they ever find that carrier, the complexity will go up a great deal and what they will be, then, looking for will be quite the same: information. And information means author or designer, whether God or E.T.

But, what really puts the nail in the coffin (2)Just in case this ends up in translation… A figure of speech or idiom, meaning ‘put an end to’ (the argument)… ie. it’s dead! , is taking a look at SETI’s FAQ page. For example, they say, “Any signal less than about 300 Hz wide must be, as far as we know, artificially produced.” So, let’s apply methodological naturalism in a similar manner to how it is imposed on intelligent design. Since they can’t, then, infer E.T. as the author for such a signal, they are going to have to give in to SETI being non-science, start using the term ‘faith’ (3)incorrectly, but in line with how skeptics often use it a bit more, and start defending themselves against ‘E.T. of the gaps’ accusations.

Bottom line: Whether ID is science or not is a matter of philosophy and worldview, not the opinion of scientists and rogue judges.

Be aware though, this matters not just for the debate between Christian apologists and skeptics. As Plantinga pointed to above, this matters for science too. If you force science into a false worldview, you end up with false science. For example, until the last year or so, Darwinists were headed in the wrong direction when considering DNA function with the now defunct concept of Junk-DNA. Their false worldview lead them to impose this idea on their science, and now they are back-peddling, or rather, trying to pretend the new functionality fits their model and get you to ignore what they previously said. And don’t forget, such an error has real-world implications, such as delayed medical advances.

It isn’t religion that impedes science, but the imposition of a faulty worldview on it.

Image credit: … science in blue! by James Vaughan