Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Issues of Intelligent Design

The Intelligent Design (ID) proposal has come under heavy fire ever since it was put forward two decades ago. Supporters of ID claim the features of the cosmos and living things are best explained as the work of an intelligent designer rather than by natural happenstance. Researchers such as William Dembski and Michael Behe have further refined ID concepts, expanding the discussion with proposals such as “specified complexity” and “irreducible complexity” to bolster the case.

Naysayers shoot down ID with clever arguments. They say ID supporters use ambiguous terminology or fail to recognize all possible mathematical alternatives. When I read the creative suggestions attempting to explain away Behe’s idea of irreducible complexity, I realize that the debate will not end with one side or the other “proving” its point. Many important theories in science do not come close to achieving a standard of proof acceptable to all parties. This is not a weakness of the process of science. Rather, it is an indication that scientific knowledge sometimes changes as new evidence comes to light. Ideally, the revisions bring us ever closer to truth.

The most well-known think tank promoting ID is Discovery Institute in Seattle. They have been accused of promoting the “wedge strategy,” an organized program to overcome the naturalistic, materialistic, evolutionary worldview with one characterized by open belief in Christian theistic principles. The accusers imply that there is a stealth quality inherent in Institute activities, perhaps with political overtones.

In a telephone conversation with a Discovery Institute staff member, I mentioned the term “supernatural” in connection with an article I was writing. “Intelligently designed” was preferable, he stated. Discovery Institute staff members make no overt claim that the intelligent designer is the Judeo-Christian God of scripture. This is consistent with the stated goals of one of Discovery Institute’s programs--the Center for Science and Culture (CSC)--which challenges neo-Darwinian theory and supports “scholars developing the scientific theory of intelligent design.”

Discovery Institute’s failure to name the God of the Bible as the designer may work against their underlying goals. Secularists accuse the Institute of concealing their real purpose--promoting the Christian view of creationism, and therefore, having an explicitly religious purpose. Secularists, particularly in the field of education, see religion, or any proposal with a flavor of religion, as threatening the purity and integrity of the science enterprise.

Instead of the “respectable, loving concordat between our magisteria,” as spoken by the popular evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, it is disheartening to note that the two magisteria (authoritative schools of knowledge), science (as rigorously and naturalistically defined by many science professionals), and religion are not permitted to intersect. Sadly, this situation indicates a clash of worldviews more than an inherent incompatibility between the two magisteria.