I have been arguing back and forth with several Christians and Creationists about the so called “Theory of Intelligent Design”. For those of you not familiar with it. Intelligent Design is the theory that the complexity of life and the universe can only be explained by a designer. This designer is supposed to be an entity that can manipulate reality in such a way as to create living beings in all their complexity. I hope I have given a fair summary definition as I am not attempting to create a Strawman.
The ID proponents taut the theory as being a refutation or alternative to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. I do not think this is actually true. It appears to me that most ID proponents think it replaces theories about the origin of life and theories about the origin of the Universe as well. I find that many of the Creationists that I debate do not understand that Evolution and the Big Bang are two unrelated theories from two unrelated fields of science. They also seem to miss the fact that Evolution does not, in any way, posit a solution to the origin of life question. I think this demonstrates the average Creationists ignorance on the science they are attempting to refute. On the other hand, the “scientists” that advocate ID cannot be said to be ignorant of the science that supports the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.
These men are actually committing the cardinal sin of science. They are defining the principal that they wish to “prove” and working to prove it. Science does not work that way. In Science you come up with something you think should be true, given current knowledge, and then you test it with experiment or observation. If it is shown to be correct, great, but if it is not, you adjust the hypothesis or the theory that it was drawn from and try again. In some cases, a negative result leads to breakthroughs.
When the Institute for Creation Research was attempting to circumvent the scientific process to “prove” that the Bible is literally true, it was pretty obvious what they were doing. In the case of ID the problem is a little more subtle. They put forward the concept of “Irreducible Complexity” and have done significant work on describing what such a system would be like with mathematics from Chaos Theory. The problem is they still haven’t defined how we can tell an “Irreducibly Complex” system from one that is not. They also have not yet discovered an example of an “Irreducibly Complex” system. They point to things like the Mammalian Eye or the Bacterial Flagellum but these have been debunked as examples of “Irreducible Complexity” by scientists.
However, all this talk about “disproving” “Irreducible Complexity” misses the point. ID fails to be science on two counts. One, even if one could find an “Irreducibly Complex” system, by their definition, it really only amounts to an argument from personal incredulity. aka. The Argument from Ignorance. We don’t know how this came to be, so “God Did It”. Two, the conclusion, “God Did It”, does not actually answer the question. It just adds new ones. Let’s suppose that the true answer is that “God Did It”, the next question is “How?” and, possibly, “Why?”. My guess is that the ID proponent would just want to stop with “God Did It” and not ask any further questions.
On the other hand, if a scientist were to encounter an, apparently, “Irreducibly Complex” living system, their first reaction would be to look for errors in the finding. Once satisfied that there are none the next step is to try and develop new principals and techniques for understanding the system. In the process, the “Irreducible Complexity” of the system will probably dissipate since greater understanding allows us to discover the ways in which the system can be reduced and still be useful.