Saturday, July 23, 2016

Intelligent Design..... Not Science

During my 8 hours at work I tend to either listen to podcasts or talks by philosophers and scientists on YouTube; if you are in my line of work you need something to make the time go by faster and seem pleasant. So, this past Wednesday I was listening to a talk by Christian philosopher Alvin Plantiga titled Science and Religion: Where the Conflict Really Lies, which can be viewed in full here. During the course of this talk, as the title implies, Plantiga talked about where the problems lie in the psuedo-conflict between science and religion, and said ultimately that the competition between science and religion is a false one; the real conflict is between science and naturalism (this is just the first of Plantiga's errors.)

Later on in his talk, Plantiga said that the theory of evolution has holes in it (meaning that there are questions that still need to be solved in the theory) and that since it is not complete that Intelligent Design theory should be taught inside the science classroom alongside evolution. For those who are not sure what Intelligent Design theory is, here is the definition according to The Theory of Intelligent Design: Educator's Briefing Packet (which is distributed by the Discovery Institute; the main center for Intelligent Design research)
"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."
So, Intelligent Design is not the same as creationism, which says that life and everything that exists is due to the fiat creation of God; it says that after looking at the evidence of biology and physics that it looks as though some type of intelligent life form designed things to function as they do. Intelligent Design is today the leading alternative theory to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, and is promoted by philosophers and scientists such as Stephen C. Meyer, Michael Behe, William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantiga, and William Dembski.

When I heard Alvin Plantiga not only endorse Intelligent Design, but then promote the idea that it should be taught in schools (a position that even the Discovery Institute opposes), I was stupefied. How could such a brilliant man promote such pseudo-scientific nonsense? I then posted on my Facebook the following:
"Watched a talk by eminent philosopher Alvin Plantiga on science and religion. I am sure that the biology department at Notre Dame must have torn their hair out after hearing it. How can a guy as bright as Plantiga say with a straight face that Darwinian evolution is "just a theory" and that intelligent design should be taught in the science classroom? I would expect such nonsense from George W. Bush, but an eminent philosopher? Holy cow....
Darwin, forgive him. He knows not what he does."
While my comment was generally well received by my friends, some were not so generous. My friend Scott Dodge (whose blog I recommend), commented that he agreed with Plantiga and that I had offered no meaningful argument against Intelligent Design theory in my post. This led to an argument between Scott and my mentor/friend anthropologist Brad Kramer, where Kramer offered an argument and Scott ignored him.

Since it is true I didn't give an argument in my post I will give one here. I will first talk about what makes a theory scientific, laying out the scientific method. After that I will discuss whether or not Intelligent Design makes the cut, and if not what to do with it. I will also give a reading list of some books to understand both sides better.

My philosophy of religion professor Brian Birch once said during class that before any science class begins, the scientific method should be presented. I agree wholeheartedly, and will begin with it here. The scientific method is the naturalistic inquiry that scientists use in order to discover truths about how the world works. In order to do so they build a hypothesis, go out and gather data, test and re-test the data, and then see if the data can repeatably reach the same conclusion. It should also be noted that in order for a hypothesis to be scientific it must be both verifiable and falsifiable as philosopher of science Karl Popper pointed out. Verifiable means that the hypothesis could be tested and proven correct, falsifiable means that the hypothesis could be under certain conditions proven false. For this reason, the question of whether or not God exists is not a scientific question because it is neither verifiable or falsifiable. A final crucial point is that science must be natural; appealing to unbroken laws and materialistic explanations. If supernatural entities come in the picture, it ceases to be science and becomes religion.

So, does Intelligent Design theory make the cut? Not even at all. Intelligent Design theory merely asserts that things look designed and therefore they are designed. However, that is not a hypothesis that can be verified or falsified, and is therefore not science. Secondly, Darwinism does not say that there is no design in nature; very much to the contrary. As historian of science Michael Shermer pointed out in an interview with Stephen C. Meyer
"You would have to be barking mad to think that life is not designed; but it is designed from the ground up."
In short, Darwinism says things are designed from the bottom up, Intelligent Design says that things are designed from the top down. The first is verifiable, the second is not.

 Also, they are wrong in there caricature of evolutionary theory. Natural selection is not random; mutation is random. Natural selection, as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has repeatedly said "is the opposite of a random process." Mutation is random because when it happens it may have no purpose; meaning it happens neither to help or hurt an organism; it just happens. Natural selection then comes along to perfect the flaw, or make better the state of affairs.

Intelligent Design theory gets it life from the fact that, as Scott pointed out, evolutionary theory has not answered every problem, and they therefore conclude it is therefore not science, or if it is that it is incomplete. Two problems with this. First, all science has unanswered questions; there would be no science if there were not questions (hence, a hypothesis is the first step). As philosopher of science Michael Ruse put it in his lecture Was there a Darwinian revolution?:
"Good science begins with a problem in the morning, solves the problem by lunch, and then goes to supper with two new problems"
Second, evolutionary theory has come a long way since the days of Charles Darwin. While Stephen C. Meyer points out in his book Darwin's Doubt that the Cambrian explosion (the sudden explosion of life 500 million years ago) is unexplained by Darwin in On the Origin of Species, this is a bit misleading. While it is true that this did trouble Darwin, keep in mind that Darwin did not have the fossil record we have now. The Cambrian explosion happened 500 million years ago, but we now have a fossil record that dates back over billion years, and is very much in line with Darwinian evolution. Also, Darwin had no idea about genes when he published his book, but now that we have discovered them as well as DNA and RNA, we are eons further than where Darwin was. Darwin laid a solid foundation, and we are continuing forward in building the majestic skyscraper. Are there still questions? Yes. We still have not figured out the origin of life, but given that we have learned so much, there is no need to think the problem can't be solved. Lets keep working until we crack the problem.

So what can we do with Intelligent Design theory? Some, like Brad, have said we can have the debate in philosophy classrooms. Michael Shermer has said that we could discuss it in current affairs and history classrooms. However, the best solution comes from the philosopher who was a pre-Darwin in many respects, the great David Hume:
If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”
Well put Hume. For any readers who want to know more about evolution and intelligent design, I suggest reading The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins for evolution and Darwin's Doubt by Stepehn C. Meyer for Intelligent Design. Another book I recommend is Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, where he shows that religious people have nothing to fear from evolution.

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