Saturday, February 24, 2007

A theory with the intelligence designed out

While many of us in Britain have looked on in horrified fascination at the Intelligent Design debate currently in full swing in America, we may have become a little complacent that something like it is unlikely to happen here. But slowly, insidiously, it is happening here. Supporters of Intelligent Design are attempting to have Intelligent Design taught in UK school science classes. Search around a bit and you'll find plenty of evidence for this (though none for the theory itself).

I maintain that Intelligent Design -- as promulgated by such organisations as the dishonestly-named Truth in Science -- isn't actually a theory. Any argument that attempts to 'explain' observed phenomena by invoking a supernatural entity, about which we can know nothing, isn't explaining anything.

The ID-ists' arguments, when challenged by those who back evolution as a science-based or evidence-based theory, seem to be a combination of the following:

  1. "You say ID is based on faith, but so is evolution. Evolution is based on assumptions about 'the unobservable past', and is therefore not scientific -- not susceptible to observation and experiment."
  2. "You say that ID cannot admit of evidence because a theory that is faith-based springs from the pre-supposition that there is a creator/designer. But evolution is based on the pre-supposition that there isn't a designer."
These arguments appear to be attempts to place ID on an equal footing with evolutionary theory. But is seems to me that in order to assess the equality of these views one must look at the reasons for the respective pre-suppositions (if you accept that they are pre-suppositions).

On what basis can one 'pre-suppose' that
  1. there is a creator, or
  2. there is no creator?
(Note that these are mutually exclusive.)

Even if you find no evidence for a creator, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But as Richard Dawkins lucidly demonstrates in The God Delusion, the existence of a creator is extremely improbable.

The ID-ists' tactics more often than not are to try to turn the evolutionist argument back on the evolutionists, without actually answering any of the evolutionists' criticisms. It's a tactic that can be effective -- until recognised, when it becomes obviously transparent.

This table-turning is likely to happen to the argument about 'Middle World' perceptions, which explains why so much of modern scientific thinking seems to go against common sense. An ID-ist's attempt at refutation might go something like this: "Just as our middle world perception cannot comprehend the very large or the very small, it also cannot comprehend the very transcendence of the other-worldly -- such as God. A rational approach to theism, therefore, is simply not valid."

The very large and the very small, however, are susceptible to rational analysis, whatever our common-sense perceptions tell us, whereas the transcendence of a creator is not, remaining an assertion of faith, without evidence.

Intelligent Design isn't a theory -- it's an intellectual cop-out.