Thursday, 11 November 2010

An Introduction to Intelligent Design - a critique

The Centre for Intelligent Design website features a set of brief (sometimes very brief) pdf documents which collectively form an Introduction to Intelligent Design, credited as written by Dr Alastair Noble, C4ID Director.  Collectively, these files form a pamphlet setting out C4ID’s manifesto for ID. Often these documents are written in a way that could be seen as persuasive to the uninformed.  In general, the arguments used are those of ‘common sense versus rational investigation’, and the hoary old ‘argument from ignorance/incredulity’.
This is the first in a series of blog articles which addresses the content of ‘An Introduction to Intelligent Design’ part by part.  
This is the introductory article of the pamphlet, and it begins with a quotation from Michael Behe (Lehigh University).  In common with most creationist/ID writings, the unidentified author uses quotations from scientists sympathetic to their cause.  This of course fits with the religious argument from authority, but in reality these individuals are rather unusual in their acceptance of creationism and /or ID.  Michael Behe is no exception.  Not only have his ideas been effectively deconstructed by the scientific community, but his Faculty have publicly distanced themselves from his position on Intelligent Design.
Most people who are aware of ID assume, wrongly, that it is a variant of creationism or a form of religious fundamentalism. 
Unfortunately for the author, the two concepts are really inseparable.  One invokes a ’creator’ (in the case of Christian denominations to which the guiding lights of the C4ID belong, this would be their God), the other an all-powerful individual with such supernatural prowess that it would be inseparable from a God.  
Additionally, there is comprehensive documentary evidence that ID is merely a device of the Discovery Institute to circumvent the constitutional separation of church and state in the USA, with the aim of introducing creationism into  American schools: the Wedge Strategy.  Ultimately, this was unsuccessful (see the Kitzmiller v Dover Trial, where Behe’s testimony was trashed and ID shown to be untestable).
But when they take time to examine it, many are immediately impressed. In fact, they discover a powerful and self-evident idea. Instinctively, ID feels correct.
This is an appeal to ‘common sense’.  But common sense is not the best guide to understanding how the world works and why things are as they are.  For example, our ancestors thought the world was flat, or that the sun revolved round the Earth.  
We return to the use of authority figures, from ancient Greeks through the great early astronomers such as Galileo, natural philosophers such as Newton and physicists such as Kelvin, who we are told:
[...] regarded their work in science as exploring the works of an Almighty Creator whose ways were discernible in the natural and living world.
Unfortunately the author goes on to restate the old canard that Einstein believed in God (as is so often the case with proponents of creationism and/or ID, we see ‘quote-mining’ in action).  While this aspect of the document is irrelevant other than an argument from authority, the reader is directed to the Wikipedia page on Albert Einstein's religious views for a clearer perspective. 
ID argues from empirical evidence that is easily detected by scientific enquiry. Its distinguishing characteristic is that it does not appeal to any religious authority, but to scientific investigation alone.
As the subsequent sections of “An Introduction to Intelligent Design” amply demonstrate, ID does not argue from empirical evidence, is not easily detected by scientific enquiry, and it does appeal to religious authority.  As the Judge in Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District observed:
After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.
Robert Saunders, BSc (Hons), PhD

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