ID not testable; it can't be a scientific theory.
The Good Reverend sent this out on MySpace in a Bulletin (www.reverendatheistar.com)
Intelligent design not testable; it can't be a scientific theory
By Todd Huffman
For The Register-Guard
Published: Sunday, July 9, 2006
In late December, U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III handed down his decision in a lawsuit filed by 11 parents against the school board of Dover, a sleepy Pennsylvania town near the capital, Harrisburg.
In terms of impact, his sweeping judgment was perhaps the most important in American jurisprudence regarding the education of children as to the origins of life since the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial.
In 2004, an eight-member majority of the Dover School Board mandated a brief disclaimer before pupils were taught about evolution. It stated: "Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is being discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence."
Curious students were encouraged to check out from the school library a specific textbook placed by the school board that offered a theologically-based alternative to Darwin's theory.
While these actions at first may seem innocuous, understand that these eight school board members - every one of them voted out of office last November - were very public advocates of the idea of "intelligent design," also known as ID, a faith-based alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution. The suit brought by the Dover parents therefore charged the school board with mandating the promotion and dissemination of a religious doctrine in public schools, in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. In a lengthy and broadly written verdict, Judge Jones agreed, ruling that the school board was guilty of "breathtaking inanity." But few believe his decision marks the end of the saga.
Intelligent design emerged after the 1987 Supreme Court decision in Edwards vs. Aguillard declared the teaching of creationism in public schools unconstitutional, and was championed by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank. It presents itself as an alternative scientific explanation for the evolution of life on Earth. Invoking a complex designer to explain biological diversity, advocates of ID posit that life in all its complexity could not have arisen without the help of an intelligent and guiding hand.
Intelligent design therefore implies that "God did it," though advocates are careful not to mention the Bible or the divine in name. Intelligent designers are even quick to point out that ID is not the modern stepchild of creationism, as is often claimed by its detractors. Creationism applies to the view that life began on Earth approximately 6,000 years ago, and differs from ID in its belief that all living things were divinely created over six literal days and have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.
Supporters of ID accept that the Earth is billions of years old. They do not dispute even whether evolution occurred, but rather how it occurred. Their argument lies in the faith-based belief that an entirely undirected process of natural selection simply cannot account for the extraordinary complexity and diversity of life on this planet.
As a purely theological idea, ID is perfectly understandable. As human beings, we are constantly groping for understanding of this strange and amazing universe into which we are born. How wondrous to think of the universe and nature as divinely inspired, guided and updated.
Nevertheless, while the belief that natural selection is shaped by the active management of an intelligent and heavenly hand is a perfectly legitimate statement of faith, it is only an idea. ID is not a scientific theory, for there is no set of facts that would prove or disprove it. It cannot even be called a hypothesis, for it cannot be tested.
It is therefore intellectually dishonest to present ID as a scientific theory, a valid rival of Darwinian evolution. It is and can only remain exclusively a matter of faith.
Intelligent designers such as those Dover School Board members say they simply want public schools to give students a more balanced view of evolution. Even President Bush agrees. In August 2005, the president endorsed teaching intelligent design alongside evolution: "Both sides ought to be properly taught, so people can understand what the debate is about."
Intelligent designers have seized upon Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent in the 1987 Supreme Court case: "Christian fundamentalists are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools." That implication, that "gaps" exist in our modern scientific understanding of evolution and such gaps are easily plugged by God's fingers, lies at the heart of the ID movement, which has as its motto: "Teach the controversy."
However, the controversy to which the president and the ID movement refer lies not within the scientific world, but rather almost entirely within the shape-shifting world of American culture. And to the detriment of more pressing national issues more numerous to count, it is here where the debate over the origins of life will have to be settled.
Through the tactic of demanding that public high school students be taught "the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory," supporters of ID foster what is in fact an illusion - that evolution is a controversial theory among scientists. It is not. Evolution is widely regarded as one of the most powerful and best-supported theories in all of science. It is, as declared recently by the National Academy of Sciences, "the central unifying concept of biology."
It spoke volumes against the idea of intelligent design that after the president's comments last August, the White House felt it necessary to issue a clarification. Presidential science adviser John Marburg told The New York Times that ID "is not a scientific concept," and that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology." While clashing with the religious beliefs held by many, though by no means all Christians, evolution is an elegant theory that has stood the test of time.
Evolution postulates that complex life arises from simple life. Despite more than a century of looking, no one has found any geological evidence proving otherwise, no evidence that the further one went back in time, the more complex life was, or that unrelated species appeared as if from nowhere. Science accepts evolution by natural selection as the logical conclusion of 150 years of countless experiments, observations and geological discoveries.
Evolution is evident not only in the fossil record but also in the letters of the genetic code shared in varying degrees by all species. In my field of medicine, evolution is at work every day, when bacteria become more resistant to antibiotics, when cancer cells develop immunity to chemotherapeutic agents and when viruses mutate to become stronger or more contagious. Look no further than HIV, the tuberculosis bacterium or the avian influenza virus for examples of evolution at work.
Much confusion among the public lies with the use of the word "theory." Critics of evolution constantly repeat that evolution is "a theory, not a fact." True, but misleading.
While in common, everyday language "theory" is often synonymous with "hunch" or "educated guess," in science we say theory to mean a strong, evidenced-based explanation that brings together many facts and observations in order to make testable predictions.
This is not to say that scientific theories are unassailable. They are not. But to qualify as theories, they must be testable by further research and the study of evidence. The idea of intelligent design is simply not testable, and as such it cannot be a scientific theory.
Alternative theories should, and in fact often do get equal time in science classrooms and research laboratories around the world every day. Teaching a theory does not force a student to accept it as truth. Teaching a theory protect students from ignorance, educating them should they aspire to devise ways to test its validity. Science, in fact, hopes that they do, for that is precisely how society increases its knowledge of the natural world.
Science begins not with faith, but with careful observation followed by experimentation and reasoning. Science is not whatever someone claims it to be. It is not based on anyone's beliefs or authority. Unlike faith, science can never be as untroublesome to the practitioner as believing without evidence that whatever must be so, therefore is so.
Science is a particular bunch of tools used for understanding and manipulating the physical universe. Science has, however, no tools for understanding the spiritual universe. Science's tools will never prove or disprove God's existence. For that matter, science cannot even disprove the idea of intelligent design. Science is, and only is, an explanation that best fits the data we currently have.
The theory of evolution explains life on Earth as it exists, with all its wonders, quirks and tragedies. Are there gaps? Few, but yes. But there are gaps in science everywhere. Are we to fill them all with God? The idea of intelligent design reminds me of a cartoon I once saw, in which a mathematician, struggling to complete a proof, fills the gap with the words, "And then a miracle occurs."
ID is poor science and worse theology. It reduces God to a magic word to use whenever we are stymied by a lack of information. It renders God as being everything we cannot explain. If we do not understand a natural process, it must be God's handiwork.
A majority of men and women in the sciences - be they educators, researchers or physicians - believe in a divinity. Belief in evolution can be entirely compatible with belief in God. After all, the mechanisms of creation described in Genesis 1 and 2 are left unspecified. Isn't it possible to believe that God could make life any way he wanted? Who's to say that evolution isn't the method an omnipotent God has intelligently designed to implement his elegant plan for creation?
If supporters of ID were fighting to include teaching the idea of intelligent design in comparative religion or social sciences classrooms, few would resist. Such classrooms are an excellent venue for exploring alternative versions of the origins of life. But science and faith cannot be taught alongside each other. They are different modes of knowing, different sources of wisdom.
Science and faith are not in competition. Let us not teach our children that they are.