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Intelligent Design is not science: why this matters

By: John Wise, Contributing Writer, jwise@smu.edu

Posted: 5/4/07

Because science gives us methods to accurately understand and manipulate the world we live in. Few people would dispute that our present scientific understanding of the physical world has led to a tremendously long list of advances in medicine, technology, engineering, the structure of the universe and the atom, and on and on. The list is nearly endless, but it does not include everything. Science can tell us only what is governed by natural forces. Miracles are extra-ordinary events; gods are super-natural beings.

Are there reasonable philosophical arguments that can be made for the existence of God? Certainly. Are there reasonable philosophical arguments that can be made that God does not exist? Yes. Is there scientific evidence that answers either of these great questions one way or another? None that holds up to close scrutiny. Collins has no more scientific evidence that God exists than Dawkins has that God does not. Their evidence is philosophical, not scientific. Philosophy can encompass these issues, science cannot.

This actually matters and is important. If we call ID science, we will have to redefine science to include supernatural causes and effects. The usefulness of science stems from the predictable action of the laws of nature and the strict rules regarding testable hypotheses. If you modify the definition of science to include unpredictable supernatural forces, magic and miracles, the utility of science will be lost because we won't be able to form reasonable predictions from what we observe in the natural world. No reverent believer would presume to know what goes on in the mind of God, so how can the actions of God be predicted? For science to progress and maintain its usefulness, it needs to be limited to the laws of nature.

The Discovery Institute and the ID proponents that visited our campus this April are busy right now attempting to redefine science to include supernatural causes and effects.

A lawsuit (Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District) brought before a U.S. Federal District Court in Harrisburg, Penn., by parents concerned about these issues has vividly illustrated the direction and the politics behind the Discovery Institute's effort to redefine science. The parents challenged a curriculum change by the Dover Board of Education that "…promotes the religious proposition of Intelligent Design as a competing scientific theory."

In his September 2005 opinion, the judge in this case, John E. Jones III, wrote that the "ID proponents confirmed that the existence of a supernatural designer is a hallmark of ID." Judge Jones, on the three Discovery Institute experts' testimony: "Professor Behe has written that by ID he means 'not designed by the laws of nature,' and that it is 'implausible that the designer is a natural entity.'" "Professor Minnich testified that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened so that supernatural forces can be considered." "Professor … Fuller testified that it is ID's project to change the ground rules of science to include the supernatural." What the ID people propose is a monumental change to the way science is practiced and has far-reaching implications.

Listen further to the transcripts of these hearings - they are astounding. Professor Behe, star witness for the ID proponents and Discovery Institute senior fellow, gave a Discovery Institute-approved definition of scientific theory in his testimony. Unfortunately for both Dr. Behe and the Discovery Institute, Eric Rothschild, the brilliant lawyer for the parents, asked Dr. Behe, "But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in Intelligent Design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?" And Dr. Behe answered, "Yes, that's correct."

Is this what America wants and needs? A definition of science that is so weak and neutered that astrology qualifies?

Judge Jones, a life-long Republican conservative, who was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush, spells it out clearly in his opinion: ID "presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource, and instructs students to forego scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere." Intelligent Design is not science, and in order to claim that it is, its proponents admit they must change the very definition of science to include supernatural explanations.

These redefinitions of science will damage the utility of the sciences, medicine and countless other technical fields. This is why it matters and why so many scientists in our country (and at SMU) are worried.

The politics of this "redefinition" movement has a long history. Twenty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in a case referred to as Edwards v. Aguillard "struck down the teaching of creation science … because it embodies the religious belief that a supernatural creator was responsible for the creation of mankind." Many ID proponents, including The Daily Campus contributing writers Sarah Levy and Anika Smith, have asserted that "because Intelligent Design does not try to address religious questions about the identity of the designer, this test does not apply to Intelligent Design." This is a critical assertion for the ID proponents. They are saying that ID is different from creationism and therefore the Supreme Court's rulings should not apply.

Judge Jones mentions a "creationist text" in his opinion that has become very relevant to this point. The book, "Of Pandas and People," was intended to be a high-school textbook that presented the Intelligent Design doctrine as science and was proposed by the Dover Board of Education as an alternative to the Dover students' approved biology textbook. In a brilliant move made by Eric Rothschild, a subpoena for all documents and drafts related to the Intelligent Design "Pandas" work and its Creationism predecessor text, "Biology and Origins," was served on the book's Richardson publisher. After losing their bid to quash the subpoena, the publisher surrendered a number of early, unpublished versions of the books to the court. A comparison of these original drafts with the actual published versions shows that the words "creationist" or "creationism" were simply substituted with "Intelligent Designer" or "Intelligent Design" just as if a word processor search-and-replace function did the job.

The date when this "creationism" to "Intelligent Design" big switch happened is absolutely damning to Ms. Levy and Smith's assertion that Intelligent Design and Creationism are not one and the same. The "switch" occurred in 1987, just weeks after the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard ruled that creationism was religion and not science, and could not be taught in public schools. No wonder Judge Jones wrote in his Kitzmiller v. Dover opinion that "ID is creationism re-labeled".

So yes, Edwards v. Aguillard certainly does apply. The ID proponents have literally provided all of the needed evidence themselves. (As Levy and Smith assert, it truly is a good thing when your opponents make your points for you.) Simply changing the name from "creationism" to "Intelligent Design" changes none of the logic, relevance or the impact that the Edwards v. Aguillard decision had on the creationist movement and now has on Intelligent Design. Neither one is science. Both have been determined to be religious because they both require a supernatural creator or designer.

It matters because the utility of science, medicine and technology is at risk.

The Discovery Institute was formed with the purpose of politically furthering the religious beliefs of creationism and Intelligent Design. Phillip Johnson, one of the founders of the Discovery Institute, has made this clear in his writings. The goal is to redefine science in America so that it is friendlier to the concepts of a Christian God.

Quoting Johnson's own words, "The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God." In other words, don't allow this to be about creationism-ID versus science. Make people think this is all about a choice they have to make between God and science. This is deceptive at best.

Ms. Levy and Ms. Smith in their recent Daily Campus article certainly are up on their Phillip Johnson and Discovery Institute indoctrination tactics. Look how strongly they reacted to my statement that one need not choose between religion and science. They state, "Instead of attempting to understand the arguments …, Wise introduces a red herring, suggesting we don't have to choose between religion and science."

Well, Ms. Levy and Smith, we don't have to choose and I do understand the arguments. We can have both science and religion. Philosophical and religious beliefs do not have to conflict with science. Science simply cannot and should not enter the supernatural realm.

Read the "Language of God." Read "Finding Darwin's God." Ask the authors, Francis Collins (an evangelical Christian) and Kenneth R. Miller (a devout Catholic), if science and evolution diminish their faith. They will tell you that the natural reality is a grand and glorious reality that beautifully complements their strong and devoutly religious beliefs.

The foundations of Intelligent Design are in politics and religion, not science. The nature of what we have learned about our physical world does not have to conflict with our faith and understanding of the spiritual domain. Don't let your faith become dependent on the politics of flawed pseudoscience.

About the writer:

John Wise, Ph.D. is a biology professor at SMU. He can be reached at jwise@smu.edu.
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