TW Viewpoint | Why Isn't Intelligent Design Science?

May 3, 2017 | Wallace Smith

Few things seem to work some scientists into a frenzy more than the words "Intelligent Design." Why isn't Intelligent Design science?


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You may have heard of the theory of Intelligent Design. It holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Seems simple enough.

And yet the passion with which many scientists attack the theory known as Intelligent Design-and attack its proponents as well-is quite a curiosity.

It would be one thing if the attackers simply disagreed with the theory. But at the heart of most attacks is a single, crucial claim: "Intelligent Design is not science."

But why not? What is it about the claim that life may exhibit signs of intelligent design that takes it outside of the realm of science?

If Intelligent Design research cannot be a scientific endeavor, then what about SETI-the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence? The effort counts such scientific luminaries as Carl Sagan and Frank Drake among its founders and promoters. SETI uses radio telescopes to scan the skies listening to the random noise of the universe in the hopes that something non-random can be noted, indicating a possible intelligence behind its origin. If the search for indications of intelligence isn't science, why is SETI scientific?

Consider archaeology. If Bill and Ted are two working archeologists and Bill says, "Hey, Ted! Look at this ancient stone tool I just discovered!" Should Ted respond, "Bill, you know we can't scientifically recognize intelligent causation. How do you know that isn't just a rock?"

Should Bill and Ted discover Stonehenge, would concluding that its massive stones were intelligently arranged there take them out of the realm of science? Must they only investigate how the massive stones could have naturally grown into such an amazing configuration? Or how they mysteriously-and altogether unintelligently-dropped from the sky to land so conveniently? Would suggesting that Stonehenge was actually designed by minds with intelligence cause Bill and Ted to be stripped of their status as scientists?

In fact, when a forensic scientist examines a dead body and determines that the individual did not die of natural causes but died as a result of murder, should we strip him of the title "scientist" because he has made a determination of intelligent action?

Some have suggested that Intelligent Design isn't empirically testable enough to be science. But many of the most popular scientific theories of the day-such as the multiverse theory and string theory in physics-have proven to be far more devoid of empirical evidence than the theory of Intelligent Design. Why are they considered scientific and Intelligent Design theory is not?

You may have read recently about popular scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Brian Greene, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson gushing about the theory that our universe may be a computer simulation created by a higher intelligence. Scientific American wrote, "The idea that the universe is a simulation sounds more like the plot of 'The Matrix,' but it is also a legitimate scientific hypothesis." But if this is a "legitimate scientific hypothesis," why isn't Intelligent Design?

Others say claim that, by opening up the possibility that the ultimate source of life may be beyond scientific consideration, Intelligent Design is not scientific. But what about the theory of Panspermia-the theory that simple life first came to earth from space. It's been advocated by scientific mainstays, such as Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe. Nobel prize winner Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule, even theorized that early life was sent to earth by advanced, intelligent, alien civilizations. Why do scientists like Crick get a pass when Intelligent Design theory gets shown the door?

The reasons given to reject Intelligent Design as science would cause us to reject any number of scientific ideas, as well.

In fact, comparing Intelligent Design to Evolution, atheist Thomas Nagel wrote, "Either both of them are science, or neither of them is."

When one truly steps back and looks at the evidence, it is hard to find reasons for rejecting Intelligent Design as science other than fear, ignorance, or ideological bigotry.

And I don't know about you, but I don't find any of those reasons very scientific.

I'm Wallace Smith for Tomorrow's World Viewpoint.

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