Friday, October 14, 2011

Is It Science?

“Intelligent design is not science,” many people within the science community regularly repeat. This claim has acquired considerable traction in our culture. From the science classroom to the courtroom, the intelligent design concept has been consigned instead to the realms of religion and theology. William A. Dembski, prominent proponent of intelligent design, writes in The Design Revolution (2004) that ID critics, “Rather than help assess the merit of intelligent design as a scientific project…relegate it to the ‘safe’ realms of religion and theology, where it can’t cause any trouble (which in itself is an indictment of how far theology has been downgraded in Western culture).”

The scientific community, wholly committed to methodological naturalism as an operating principle, and largely committed to philosophical naturalism as a guiding principle, is not about to honestly assess and judge the scientific merits of the case for intelligent design. Such actions would amount to a paradigm shift for that community: Scientists do not pretend to speculate on the meaning of evidence which may signal supernatural cause and effect. They fear acknowledging intelligent design may be tantamount to acknowledging an intelligent deity. When the evidence uncovered indicates the intelligent cause may be a supernatural being, the scientists demur. However, intelligent causes are frequently the subject of scientific investigations.

Let us move this discussion to the realm of the practical and experiential. My wife and I just returned from a 21-day journey to Europe. We devoted several days to each of seven major countries, visiting primarily historical sites. Detailed records exist to account for the origins of many historic structures of recent centuries. Clearly, the structures were intelligently designed. But further back in time less recorded information is available. In some instances, such as the Roman city of Pompeii, all structures were completely buried under cinders and ash by a violent volcanic eruption in 79 AD, and the thriving city was basically forgotten until the 18th century. Archaeology uses systematic empirical, scientific methods of investigation and analysis to establish intelligent origin.

No one doubts that the methods of archaeologists are those of traditional science. The same may be said for methods of modern investigators such as forensic experts. Dembski and other intelligent design proponents such as Stephen C. Meyer make the case that the science community accepts many instances of intelligent causation in the systems they investigate. They consider their conclusions of intelligent causation to be supported by good science. In the case of natural systems displaying evidence of a supernatural intelligent designer, however, they claim the same rules do not apply.

Dembski states “The fundamental claim of intelligent design is straightforward and easily intelligible: namely, there exist natural systems that cannot be adequately explained in terms of undirected natural causes and that exhibit features that in any other circumstance we would attribute to intelligence.” It is unfortunate that the rules for determining a causally adequate explanation differ according to the subject under investigation.