Sunday, April 12, 2009

Just a Theory

I have a bit of an obsession with intelligent design. Look back through my older posts and you'll find a brief post about Ben Stein's movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. That post has approximately 50 pages' worth of commentary, a pitched battle between myself and an ID proponent. If you want to look at the minutiae of the debate between evolutionary theory and intelligent design, look there. This is not a post to deal with minutiae.

This is my response to a single comment made by one design supporter on one Facebook discussion. This is the essence of my stance on intelligent design.

I don't understand why this is some sort of evidence against ID. Presumably a designer would know this and that's why sexual reproduction is the way it is.

This is the nugget, the kernel within the post that demonstrates why ID should never be taught in science classrooms (I would say "will" but I know a parochial school in my area that teaches intelligent design). This is because the basic reasoning behind this quotation can apply to any natural phenomenon we care to name.

"Presumably a designer would know this and that's why gravity is the way it is."

"Presumably a designer would know this and that's why malaria is the way it is."

"Presumably a designer would know this and that's why the stars are the way they are."

"Presumably a designer would know this and that's why the brain is the way it is."

Each sentence covers a wide swath of scientific knowledge - relativity, epidemiology, astronomy, neurology. "This is the way it is because a designer did it."

This statement demonstrates two massive problems with intelligent design:

1) The familiar objection - it's unfalsifiable. A designer could have done anything, useful or useless, beautiful or ugly, efficient or inefficient. Like the invisible insubstantial room-temperature dragon in my basement, the designer cannot be disproven. God could have created fossil bunnies in the Precambrian era. The designer could have predicted the existence of pollution, and created an algorithm that would eventually develop enzymes to counter that pollution. The designer could even have worked through strictly evolutionary processes (though no ID advocate likes to admit that, because they think evolutionary processes don't work). No matter what science discovers, the designer could have done it. Like the bogeyman it will always haunt scientific inquiry no matter how long scientists spend disproving "facts" like irreducible complexity. The designer becomes a tautology. Once it is assumed that 1 = 0, anything can be proven.

2) The design hypothesis seriously hinders scientific inquiry. Don't bother with predictions, don't bother with experimentation, don't bother with discovery - the designer's got it covered. He knew something, and that's why the world is the way it is. What else are we to assume from the red tape ID proponents have strung up across every evolutionary phenomenon beyond the level of speciation? "It's impossible for the bacterial flagellum to have developed naturally, so don't bother investigating it." "It's impossible for complexity to arise through stochastic processes, so don't bother simulating it." "It's impossible for paleontologists to find enough transitional fossils to satisfy evolutionary theory, so don't bother digging." Or how about the favorite whipping horse of any design supporter, abiogenesis? "It's impossible for life to have developed naturally. The odds against it are staggering. So never mind the abiotic synthesis of amino acids, of polymers, of phospholipid bilayers. Never mind autocatalytic cycles, and the actual laws of probability. It didn't happen, so don't bother investigating it." Don't bother with scientific inquiry.

Science asks HOW phenomena develop, HOW processes function, HOW the universe came to be the way it is. ID answers with WHO, a perverse frameshift mutation of the question. Thus it is reduced to tearing down what is already known, what we already have. In the process, it makes a mockery of the method by which we gather knowledge--that is, science. Then ID proponents wonder why scientists scorn them, why their "theory" is refused "equal time" with "Darwinism" and instead "suppressed" by "establishment" science and education. The answer is simple: it is not, and has never been, science.