Intelligent design is an oxymoron
Intelligent Design theory is a mountain of waffle resting on analogy. Neither scientists nor believers should touch it
The question: Is intelligent design bad theology?
At the heart of Steve Fuller's defence of intelligent design theory (ID) is a false analogy. He compares the struggles of the ID supporters to the travails of the Protestant Reformers. Just as they stood against the established Catholic church, so the ID supporters stand against establishment science, specifically Darwinian evolutionary theory. Where this comparison breaks down is that the Protestants were no less Christians than the Catholics. It was rather that they differed over the right way to get to heaven. For the Protestants it was justification through faith, believing in the Lord, whereas for Catholics, it was good works. Given that Saint Augustine, some thousand years before, had labeled the Catholic position the heresy of Pelagianism, the reformers had a good point.
In the ID case, whatever its supporters may say publicly for political purposes – in the USA thanks to the First Amendment you cannot teach religion in state-funded schools – the intention is to bring God into the causal process. ID claims that there are some phenomena (like the bacterial flagellum and the blood-clotting cascade) are so "irreducibly complex," that to explain them we must invoke an "intelligent designer." As they admit among themselves – the philosopher-mathematician William Dembski is quite clear on this – the designer is none other than our old friend the God of Christianity. The logos of the early chapters of the Gospel of Saint John, as Dembski confidently states.
The trouble for the Fuller analogy is that science simply does not allow God as a causal factor. It is not a question of being an atheist or not. In the nineteenth century, even those who thought that there could be no natural explanation of organic origins realized that the appeal to divine intervention takes one out of science. In the words of the English historian and philosopher of science, William Whewell – an ordained Anglican who so disliked evolutionary speculations that, when he was master of Trinity College, Cambridge, he would not allow a copy of the Origin of Species in the college library – when it comes to science on origins: "The mystery of creation is not within the range of her legitimate territory; she says nothing, but she points upwards."
In the 20th century, two of the most important Darwinian biologists – Ronald Fisher in England and the Russian-born Theodosius Dobzhansky in America – were deeply committed Christians. But they would never, ever have introduced God into their work. Like all scientists, they were "methodological atheists." You don't have to be at one with Richard Dawkins on the God question to do evolutionary biology. ID is not science and, like its predecessor, Scientific Creationism, it only pretends to be science to do a political and legal end-run around the US Constitution.
Contrary to Fuller, although ID is not bad science – it is not science at all – its intent is deeply corrosive of real science. As Thomas Kuhn pointed out repeatedly, when scientists cannot find solutions, they don't blame the world. They blame themselves. You don't give up in the face of disappointments. You try again. Imagine if Watson and Crick had thrown in the towel when their first model of the DNA molecule proved fallacious. The very essence of ID is admitting defeat and invoking inexplicable miracles. The bacterial flagellum is complex. Turn to God! The blood clotting cascade is long and involved. Turn to God! That is simply not the way to do science. And as it happens, both the flagellum and the cascade have revealed their very natural, law-bound mysteries to regular scientists who keep plugging away and wouldn't take "no" for an answer.
ID is theology – very bad theology. As soon as you bring God into the world on a daily creative basis, then the theodicy problem – the problem of evil – rears its ugly head. If God works away miraculously to do the very complex, presumably in the name of goodness, then why on earth does God not occasionally get involved miraculously to prevent the very simple with horrendous consequences? Some very, very minor genetic changes have truly dreadful effects, causing people life-long pain and despair. If God thought it worth His time to make the blood clot, then why was it not worth His time to prevent Huntingdon's Chorea?
Keep God out of the day-to-day functioning of things. If, like the archbishop of Canterbury, you absolutely must have God do law-breaking miracles – apparently he would give up and become a Quaker if the tomb had not been empty on the third day – then at least restrict His activities to the cause of our salvation.
ID is the most recent manifestation of a particular form of 19th-century, American, Protestant, evangelical thinking. We don't want it in America and you don't want it in Britain either. Take it from Michael Ruse, a Brit living in America, that you shouldn't listen to Steve Fuller, an American living in Britain.