[Paleopsych] LAT: Michael Shermer: Not Intelligent, and Surely Not Science

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Michael Shermer: Not Intelligent, and Surely Not Science

    Michael Shermer is founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and the
    author of "Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown" (Times
    Books, 2005).

    March 30, 2005

    According to intelligent-design theory, life is too complex to have
    evolved by natural forces. Therefore life must have been created by a
    supernatural force -- an intelligent designer. ID theorists argue that
    because such design can be inferred through the methods of science,
    IDT should be given equal time alongside evolutionary theory in public
    school science classes. Nine states have recently proposed legislation
    that would require just that.
    The evolution-creation legal battle began in 1925 with the Scopes
    "monkey" trial, over the banning of the teaching of evolution in
    Tennessee. The controversy caused textbook publishers and state boards
    of education to cease teaching evolution -- until the Soviets launched
    Sputnik in the late 1950s and the United States realized it was
    falling behind in the sciences.
    Creationists responded by passing equal-time laws that required the
    teaching of both creationism and evolution, a strategy defeated in a
    1968 Arkansas trial that found that such a law attempted to "establish
    religion" in a public school and was therefore unconstitutional. This
    led to new equal-time laws covering "creation science" and "evolution
    science." In 1987, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 7 to 2, said
    teaching creation science "impermissibly endorses religion by
    advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created
    This history explains why proponents of intelligent design are careful
    to never specify the true, religious nature of their theory and to
    insist that what they are doing is science. For example, leading ID
    scholar William Dembski wrote in his 2003 book, "The Design
    Revolution": "Intelligent design is a strictly scientific theory
    devoid of religious commitments. Whereas the creator underlying
    scientific creationism conforms to a strict, literalist interpretation
    of the Bible, the designer underlying intelligent design need not even
    be a deity."
    But let's be clear: Intelligent-design theory is not science. The
    proof is in the pudding. Scientists, including scientists who are
    Christians, do not use IDT when they do science because it offers
    nothing in the way of testable hypotheses. Lee Anne Chaney, professor
    of biology at Whitworth College, a Christian institution, wrote in a
    1995 article: "As a Christian, part of my belief system is that God is
    ultimately responsible. But as a biologist, I need to look at the
    evidence.... I don't think intelligent design is very helpful because
    it does not provide things that are refutable -- there is no way in
    the world you can show it's not true. Drawing inferences about the
    deity does not seem to me to be the function of science because it's
    very subjective."
    Intelligent-design theory lacks, for instance, a hypothesis of the
    mechanics of the design, something akin to natural selection in
    evolution. Natural selection can and has been observed and tested, and
    Charles Darwin's theory has been refined.
    Intelligent-design theorists admit the difference, at least among
    themselves. Here is ID proponent Paul Nelson, writing last year in
    Touchstone, a Christian magazine: "Right now, we've got a bag of
    powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as 'irreducible
    complexity' and 'specified complexity' -- but, as yet, no general
    theory of biological design."
    If intelligent design is not science, then what is it? One of its
    originators, Phillip Johnson, a law professor at UC Berkeley, wrote in
    a 1999 article: "The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is
    inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism versus
    evolution to the existence of God versus the nonexistence of God. From
    there people are introduced to 'the truth' of the Bible and then 'the
    question of sin' and finally 'introduced to Jesus.' "
    On March 9, I debated ID scholar Stephen Meyer at Westminster College
    in Fulton, Mo. After two hours of debate over the scientific merits
    (or lack thereof) of IDT, Meyer admitted in the question-and-answer
    period that he thinks that the intelligent designer is the
    Judeo-Christian God and that suboptimal designs and deadly diseases
    are not examples of an unintelligent or malevolent designer, but
    instead were caused by "the fall" in the Garden of Eden. Dembski has
    also told me privately that he believes the intelligent designer is
    the God of Abraham.
    The term "intelligent design" is nothing more than a linguistic
    place-filler for something unexplained by science. It is saying, in
    essence, that if there is no natural explanation for X, then the
    explanation must be a supernatural one. Proponents of intelligent
    design cannot imagine, for example, how the bacterial flagellum (such
    as the little tail that propels sperm cells) could have evolved; ergo,
    they conclude, it was intelligently designed. But saying "intelligent
    design did it" does not explain anything. Scientists would want to
    know how and when ID did it, and what forces ID used.
    In fact, invoking intelligent design as God's place-filler can only
    result in the naturalization of the deity. God becomes just another
    part of the natural world, and thereby loses the transcendent mystery
    and divinity that define the boundary between religion and science.

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