Religion in a Lab Coat: A Closer Look at Intelligent Design (Part 1)

The New Creationism

I’m not going to lie; this is a big issue for me. It’s a big issue to a lot of people. And I want to lay out all the cards on the table before I make my points, so here they are:

Card 1: Yes, I am an atheist.
Card 2: Yes, I used to be a Christian and now I’m not.
Card 3: Yes, I do believe in freedom of speech, especially on publicly-owned land.  In fact, I think I take the idea of freedom of expression a bit more seriously than most people do, as some of you know.

Having said all that, I want to make it clear that what I’m about to contend has nothing to do with any of these things.  We’re talking about science education here.  What’s at stake is the education of our children. Not religion. Not freedom of speech. And especially not the “moral fabric of society.” I’m assuming, if you’re reading this, that you are an educated person who values the knowledge that has been revealed by science, and that you see science as an indispensable tool for understanding reality and improving our society. Most people, religious or otherwise, fall into this category.

In an article that may end up including several parts, I’m going to talk about a concept that I’m quite positive most of you have heard of: Intelligent Design. Proponents of Intelligent Design (or ID, for short), claim that their views are scientific and not at all religious.  They claim that their “perfectly reasonable views” are being discriminated against in the scientific arena and in the courtrooms of America.  They claim that scientific naturalism, and indeed science itself, is insufficient to explain the reality of the universe.  They claim that ID is not Creationism, and they resent any associations made between the two.

We’re going to examine all of these claims, starting here, in Part 1.  But before we do, I think it’s important that I emphasize what we’re really talking about.

Defining Science

We all, I should hope, have been taught to have respect for science and scientific research.  But why?  What is science anyway?  Let’s take a quick look at the definition:

sci·ence

1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.

2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

There are a few details I want to highlight here.  The first, is that science deals with facts and truths. This means that science can indeed make truth-claims.  Where the sciences are concerned, either something is true, or it isn’t true, or we don’t know.  The second, is that science is concerned only with the physical or material world. It doesn’t say anything about the laws or properties of any supernatural worlds that may exist (although science can reasonably comment on whether or not an event can be attributed to a supernatural cause).  The third and most important detail is that all the knowledge claimed by science, is gained through observation and experimentation.

That’s the kicker. To be a science, it has to start first with observation. Once we make observations, we form an explanation. Then we gather data and/or conduct experiments. If enough of the data supports your explanation, then your explanation becomes scientific fact. However, if the data contradicts your explanation, you are wrong, and you go back to the drawing board.  That’s the scientific method, in a nutshell.

We live in a country that values the freedom of ideas, which is why so many people find this aspect of science difficult to accept. Science is not a democracy. The rules are very clear: if you don’t have evidence, you don’t have science. Science is conservative. It’s rigid. It’s not open to interpretation, nor is it a matter of opinion.

Keeping that in mind, let’s examine the most common claim made by defenders if ID…


“Intelligent Design is scientific and has nothing to do with religion.”

Take another look at the definition we just went over.  Does intelligent design fit any part of that description? At all? No, it doesn’t.

First, to even be considered a science, there would have to be a testable theory to work with.  There is none.  Even Michael Behe candidly admits that you “can’t prove intelligent design by experiment.” Without an actual theory to test, you don’t really have any science. All design proponents have offered so far is a hazy definition, wherein:

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.

O-kayy? Sooo how exactly does one go about proving that? What experiments can you set up to test whether or not that’s true? You can’t. Therefore, until they can at least form a testable ID hypothesis, the “theory” isn’t even in the parking lot of the scientific arena.

In addition, ID is not falsifiable. In science, all theories and hypotheses must be falsifiable, which means that what you assert has to have the possibility of being shown false by empirical observation (note: if something is falsifiable, it doesn’t mean that it’s false… just that if it is false, we would be able to see it experimentally).

And let’s not forget Intelligent Design’s most obvious and important failure as a science: that it is supported by no evidence whatsoever. Sure, they’ve tried. They’ve thrown out canards like irreducible complexity and specified complexity. But these ideas, apart from being based completely on intuition (i.e. not testable), have long been debunked.

Now, as for the idea that ID has “nothing to do with religion,” only someone either completely naive, or completely ignorant of the history of ID would try to make this claim with a straight face.

For starters, there’s the Wedge Document written by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and leaked in 1998, which clearly details the objectives of the ID movement as both political and religious… not scientific.  Then we have the fact that the majority of books on ID are published by InterVarsity Press, which says of itself:

“We are a publisher of Christian books and Bible studies. As an extension of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, InterVarsity Press serves those in the university, the church and the world by publishing resources that equip and encourage people to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord in all of life.”

Then there are the scientists of faith like Kenneth Miller (Catholic) and Francis Collins (Evangelical Protestant), who are highly critical of ID, and have pointed out that the movement is clearly motivated by a particular interpretation of one or more holy books, and not by scientific integrity.  And if you still need more evidence, how about a few words from the founders of the ID movement:

“There’s a difference of opinion about how important this debate [advocating intelligent design] is. What I always say is that it’s not just scientific theory. The question is best understood as: Is God real or imaginary?”

Phillip Johnson, “The Search for Intelligent Design in the Universe”, Silicon Valley Magazine, 9 Jan. 2000.

“If we take seriously the word-flesh Christology of Chalcedon (i.e. the doctrine that Christ is fully human and fully divine) and view Christ as the telos toward which God is drawing the whole of creation, then any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient.”

“Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Is that enough for you?  Want more?  Here’s an excerpt from a CitizenLink interview with Dembski:

“I believe God created the world for a purpose. The Designer of intelligent design is, ultimately, the Christian God.”

Doesn’t get much more clear than that, does it?  This is Intelligent Design’s leading “champion.”  And here he is admitting that the designer is the Christian God.

Just take a look at who is advocating the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools.  How is it being presented? Who’s arguing for it, and how? Read the excerpts from any school board meeting where the public is allowed to speak about the issue, and if you seriously still think that Intelligent Design has nothing at all to do with religion, then I’m afraid I don’t know what else would convince someone in such deep denial.

(to be continued in Part 2…)

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