Nacho on his excellent and arty blog WoodMoor Village Zendo
has a couple of lengthy entries (here
) in which he disputes the notion that Intelligent Design (ID) is a science, mainly in a reply to a stance of ID as science through Buddhist thought. Nacho (I love that name) goes into deep detail, as do a few of his commentors, of specific mechanisms that ID adherents claim are evidence for a designer for life, the universe, and everything.
I want to first address the idea that ID is a scientific theory. It isn't. To be truly scientific, a theory must have, at a minimum, two characteristics: 1) it must explain the current empirical data, and 2) it must be able to predict future observation and testing results. Let's look at both of these.
Does ID explain current empirical data? As a matter of fact, it does, in a twisted way. All characteristics and observations can be simply explained as the work of the Designer (I will honor the way the ID folks carefully avoid the word God or Deity or Supreme Being, though we know [nudge nudge wink wink] that this is really what they are trying to prove). Yet this does not get the ID folks off the hook; as a corollary, a true scientific theory can be shown to be incorrect by clearly defined data. Is there data that would prove ID wrong? Oddly enough, there is, and that is the overwhelming evidence of evolution. However, ID proponents maintain that evolution is only a theory, and theories are only ideas, not facts. This is the kind of misunderstanding and myopic word meaning thinking that, curiously enough, you find among fundamentalists. But evolution is a fact.
At the risk of digression, this clinging to evolution as a theory rather than fact is akin to the following situation. You are standing in a field, looking west at a beautiful sunset. Suddenly, and without warning, you feel yourself hit in the back of the head by a hard object. You turn around, and, standing there is another person, the only other person in the field besides yourself. This other person, your alleged attacker, grips a hammer dripping with blood, and he has a smile on his face. Now, the question is, did that person hit you? You can do all kinds of tests; the wound on your head matches the peen of the hammer; it is your blood dripping off the hammer, as determined by DNA and other tests. In a court of law, this would be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that this person hit you on your head with that hammer. However, to a jury of ID believers, you still haven't proved
that the person did indeed attack you, as you did not see
the person hit you. In fact, nowhere in the Bible does it state that this person hit you; it's possible that some Intelligent Hammer Attacker did the attack, and arranged the evidence to make you think
it was this other person, to test the faith of all involved.
But, let's get back to ID as a scientific theory. Clearly, ID does not enable a person to predict future events, nor does it allow for testing and reproducing current tests. If everything that happens does so because it is designed that way by some sort of Designer, you can never know if some new piece of data comes from the inherent Design, or if it is a fact which calls into question Intelligent Design. To be able to predict, you would have to know the mind of the Designer. You cannot predict what results you will see when changes in the environment occur.
So, clearly, ID is not scientific. Well, then, what is it?
I contend we can determine this through induction, by observing the history of thought as it pertains to gods and the supernatural.
As far back as there is a written record (and there is reasonable evidence that this occurred prehistorically) man has explained his world through the use of supernatural forces. Phenomena that was mysterious was believed to be the actions of gods, goddesses, and monsters. The Nile river overflowed its banks every year at the same time, allowing for the cultivation of crops, because the Gods provided it. A lightening bolt was caused by Zeus tossing them from Mt. Olympus. Do you see a pattern? When phenomena could not be explained logically or scientifically, it was given a supernatural cause.
Sometimes these phenomena were given a number of supernatural explanations, as different cultures created their own answers. Let's take one big example, that of death. What happens when we die?
The Egyptians thought that, if the body were properly preserved, a dead person would be resurrected in a land in the "west" overseen by a god, Osiris. The process of preservation was overseen by Anubis, who provided the necessary magic for the process. This was not metaphorical thinking on the part of Egyptians; burials were always on the west side of the Nile, for example.
Among the Greeks and Romans, the dead were sent to The Underworld (in fact, there were different underworlds; Hades, Tartarus, the Elysian Fields). Amongst the Norse, a warrior who died in battle was taken by the Valkyries to Valhalla, the warrior's hall, to await the final battle, Ragnorak.
In modern times, we have similar supernatural systems. Among Christians, if we are "good" we go to Heaven for an eternal life of bliss; if we are "bad" we go to Hell for an eternal life of punishment. In Hindu and Buddhist systems, our actions in this life determine the life we will have upon reincarnation, until we are free from the cycle of birth and death.
The point I am trying to make is humans seem to have a need to know the causes of phenomena we experience in our lives. Not only do we want to know how things happen, but also why. Science is a body of practices that can determine the way things work. It has led to another body of practices, technology, which allows us to manipulate our environment for what we perceive to be "better" situations. While science and technology have been with us from the beginnings of the human race (and it isn't only humans who have science and technology), it has only been since the Enlightenment that science has begun to regularly provide natural answers for what were once attributed to supernatural causes.
Supernatural causes are the domain of religion. There are still questions that science cannot answer (What happens when we die?). As long as there are such questions, we will have religion. Religion, however, is not always a benign practice amongst humans. Different religions, which provide different supernatural answers to many of the same questions, are organized in a various power structures. The leaders of these structures make their living by expounding on their chosen answers. Some of them try to further their power and influence by converting people of other religions into theirs. The more followers a religion has, the more power the leaders of said religion have. And, while curiousity is a human trait, the desire to control the environment is also human. Religious leaders believe they have more control over their environment when they have more power. As such, some will vigorously defend their power domain.
This is where religion comes into conflict with science. Increasingly, science is providing answers to questions that were once the domain of religion. As the supernatural is shown to be less and less a tenable answer, a dangerous trend becomes apparent to the leaders and followers of some religions. More and more, people begin to ask themselves, "Well, if my religion was wrong about X, what else does it have wrong?" Because Christianity can be such a binary thought system, many people, leaders and followers, make the next binary leap of thought: If the Bible has X wrong, then it's all
wrong. And if the Bible is all wrong, then there can be no morals, no law, and anarchy and barbarism and evil will result.
This brings us back to ID. ID is an attempt by creationists to dress up one of the two origin myths of Genesis in the clothing of science, in an attempt to salvage a literal interpretation of a few passages of the Bible. Creationism, ID's ancestor, was also presented as a science (this is another occurance where Christianity has taken characteristics of a culture - this time it is science, but previously it was the supernatural aspects of a culture it was assimilating into its own power structure; for example, the Catholic Church turned the deities of certain native Mexican peoples into saints). However, Creationism was obviously a religious notion, and, as such, could not be taught in schools as an alternative theory to evolution.
And so Creationists took Genesis and God out of Creationism to create Intelligent Design. But it still uses mystery and supernatural in order to defend a narrow religious interpretation of the Bible. One of Nacho's commentors uses the example of bacterial flagellum as proof that evolution cannot have produced it; therefore, lacking a natural explanation, only a supernatural process could have created it. This is a common tactic by ID proponents, but a very ancient one. The strategy of defending Biblical creation from the contrary fact of evolution involves repeatedly focusing on those aspects of nature which have not yet been explained by science. In typical binary thinking, if evolution cannot be the answer, only a Creator God can be.
To give credit to ID, this is a far more palatable strategy than was used on Galileo when he showed that Earth was not the center of the universe.
I must also point out that not all Christians (Muslims argue against Darwin, too) cling to creationism in order to protect their power and narrow views. And I think this is how it should be. What literalists take as gospel (pun intended) in the Bible is understood as metaphor for a more important underlying ethical and moral lesson. Indeed many of creationism's and ID's opponents are members of the Christian clergy.
So I feel compelled to add that I do not think religion is without purpose in our modern age. For many, religion provides not only comfort in trying times (there are no atheists in foxholes), but quite workable and admirable guidelines for living an ethical and moral life. We can see how Buddhism is changing into a force for social change and justice, as in Thich Nhat Hanh's Engaged Buddhism. We see it in the Christian-based activities of former president Jimmy Carter in his work on promoting peace between Muslims and Jews, as well as his support of Habitat for Humanity.
We are at a time when some of the better religious leaders and followers are looking at the traditions and beliefs of other religions and finding value and insight. There is a movement towards finding tenets in common, and building a better world for all through cooperation. But there are still those who greedily cling to their narrow worldview, and defend it at all costs. Disguising their weak faith in the cloth of science helps nobody. Actually, it does serve one good purpose; it serves as an example.