One of the most hotly contested controversies in educational, political and scientific circles has been Intelligent Design, or I.D. It has popped up in presidential press conferences. It has become an issue in local elections. And it is the subject of discussion on television, radio, scientific journals, and popular magazines. Indeed, just a few years back I watched a debate on C-Span dealing with I.D. and whether it should be taught in public schools. It has appeared everywhere. So, let’s join the fray, and discuss the issue of I.D.
But, before we go any further we should consider what we mean by Intelligent Design. Simply put, it is the assertion that nature shows evidence of being designed by an intelligence outside the natural system. This evidence shows up in a number of ways. Let’s consider a couple.
For instance, there is the anthropic principle. The term “anthropic” refers to man. This principle is based on the observation that there are many factors in our world that seem purposefully structured for the survival of mankind. We live at just the right distance from the sun. The size, distance, and path of the moon are just right to contribute to human existence. We live on a planet with just the right mixture of water, oxygen, nitrogen, etc. for the survival of humanity. Get the idea? All these factors seem to indicate a scheme behind nature—a designer who planned and orchestrated all the necessary factors for human life to function on earth.
Another example of evidence for I.D. is found in the concept of irreducible complexity. This is based on the observation that there are some systems in nature that must have been designed and put into use fully formed. This must be so because the constituent parts of these systems cannot function separately. Indeed, they make no sense separately. A classic example used by creationists is that of the bombardier beetle. This is a small insect that has the capability to deliver a fiery blast from its abdomen to ward off enemies. It does this by mixing two different chemicals produced in its body. These chemicals are simultaneously released into a chamber where they ignite and are ejected outward from the beetle, scorching any approaching predators. What is intriguing about this set up is that each component of the system is not functional alone. You need the organs to produce each chemical, the chambers for these chemical, the apparatus to send them to the third chamber, where they become reactive, and then are ejected. None of these constituent parts is independent of the others. All are needed for the proper functioning of the whole. Which raises the question, how could such a complex system have arisen through chance, evolving over thousands of years? The system is irreducibly complex in its function. Therefore, there had to be an intelligent designer behind the formation of this system. And this is only one example among a myriad to be found in nature. (And I mean a myriad! There are many, many, many, many, many, many, many… well, you get the idea.)
Notice that in discussing the need for a designer for nature that I am not capitalizing the words “intelligence” and “designer.” This is purposeful. For the proponents of I.D. do not necessarily assert that the designer is the Deity. (Although we may assume this.) Rather, they posit that the evidence simply points to a definite design, and thus a designer. Who is this designer? Other disciplines may be called upon for this answer. I.D. just deals with the scientific evidence.
It would seem that this issue is one that would be welcomed for consideration by educators and the scientific community. The evidence is there, abundant and clear. One may interpret the evidence differently, or reject the conclusions of the proponents of Intelligent Design. But to examine the evidence on its own merits would appear to be a natural course for science. However, this is not the case. I.D. is being rejected by many before it is even heard. It is being demonized as “unscientific,” “without scientific basis or evidence,” “religion in the guise of science,” etc. In fact, the argument most commonly and vociferously used against I.D. is that it is NOT science at all, but it is pure religion.
But, I ask, what about the evidence? What about the facts? Should not science consider these matters? Should there not be an honest and open consideration of the data? Is this not what science is all about.
Yes. This is what science is all about. But the debate over I.D. is not about science, it is about world views. In point of fact, this controversy is not scientific at all. Instead, it is philosophical. It concerns first principles and basic assumptions, not scientific evidence.
Consider the debate that I mentioned I saw on C-Span. One segment of the debate was between a man arguing in favor of Intelligent Design being taught in public schools, and a woman arguing against it. (By the way, she was a political scientist. Interesting. Why is a political scientist involved in this debate?) During the discussion, this woman had the candor to make an admission. The gist of what she said was this: Intelligent Design is not scientific at all. The reason it is not scientific is that it implies a designer outside of nature. Science is purely naturalistic. Anything supernatural (outside or beyond nature) is religious and not scientific. Period.
My, my. Lady, you tipped your hand! This woman from the revered halls of academia revealed the real issue—which is, what does one accept as the basic principles of knowledge, reality and existence? Science is all about the scientific method. It concerns postulating hypotheses, conducting experiments, analyzing the resulting data, and developing theories based on the evidence and the data. This process does not automatically eliminate the possibility of the supernatural. At least it should not. There is only way in which the supernatural is of necessity completely out of the picture. And this is if the supernatural is rejected as invalid a priori. If you start with the assumption that the physical, material, natural cosmos is all that exists—then you can eliminate the supernatural. But this is a philosophical presupposition, not a fact based on scientific experimentation or inquiry.
In his book Miracles, C. S. Lewis rightly noted that the contest between the Naturalist and the Supernaturalist is a fundamental issue. It is at the heart of any debate about whether miracles exist or not. (Including the miracle of creation and cosmic design.) Lewis returned to this issue repeatedly in his books. Indeed, it flows as an undercurrent throughout most of his work. Where do we start in our view of the world? Do we live in a closed system in which nature is all that exists? Or do we live in an open system in which there is the possibility of forces, powers or influences that are beyond nature? The first position, that of a closed system, is the position of the Naturalist. The second, in which there is an open system, is the position of the Supernaturalist. Both are distinctly different and opposed world views. Both have their own perspectives on reality and knowledge. Both begin with an accepted set of assumptions and presuppositions. But neither one is inherently scientific or unscientific. Both involve empirical data which may be examined and studied by science; but they are at their roots philosophical positions, not scientific theories.
I have heard several people on radio and television arguing against Intelligent Design. By and large, the arguments being offered are not scientific in the least. They are polemical in content. They are composed of logical rhetoric. They generally evidence a great deal of pontification. They are often emotional harangues. But they are usually NOT scientific discussions. In the final analysis, they are philosophical diatribes.
Let me try to drive the point home. The secular naturalist argues vehemently against I.D. because he automatically rejects anything supernatural. His philosophical belief system begins with the assumption that we live in a closed, material environment. He starts with the idea that there is no supernatural: none, nada, not at all, cannot be… This assumption is not based on scientific data. Rather, it is based on the presupposition that nature is all that exists and is all that we can know.
Now, don’t get the idea that the naturalist, and the secular scientist, is non-religious. Indeed, he is most assuredly not. Just listen to the passion with which he argues his position. That will reveal his faith. He is truly religious. Very. He has just chosen to substitute other gods and other beliefs for the traditional religion. Instead of God he believes in Nature. Instead of Providence he believes in blind chance. Instead of a rational faith, he believes in rationalism. Instead of the imago Dei, he believes in evolutionary process. Instead of responsibility to a Creator, he believes in human autonomy. Instead of moral absolutes, he believes in relativistic morals based on the moment. But yet, he believes. And he believes most desperately and most passionately. Yes, he does believe. But it is belief, it is religion, it is philosophy that he espouses—not science!