Skeptic: Examining Extraordinary Claims and Promoting Science Skeptic: Examining Extraordinary Claims and Promoting Science

top navigation:

Tuesday, April 5th, 2005 | ISSN 1556-5696

eSkeptic: the email newsletter of the Skeptics Society

Share this eSkeptic with friends online. Subscribe | Donate | Watch Lectures | Shop


This Week’s Lectures by Michael Shermer

  • – tonight! – Tuesday, April 5th, 7:30 pm
    “The Science of Good and Evil”
    Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana
    contact Stuart Glennan, (317) 940-9890, sglennan@butler.edu
  • Wednesday, April 6th, two lectures
    4:00 pm “Why People Believe Weird Things”
    8:00 pm “The Science of Good and Evil”
    Student Union Ballroom and Science Center
    DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana
    contact Keith Nightenhelser, k_night@depauw.edu
    or Tavia Pigg, (765) 658-5090, tpigg@depauw.edu
  • Thursday, April 7th, 1:00 pm
    “Why People Believe Weird Things”
    Education Auditorium
    University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming
    contact Missy Samp, MSamp@uwyo.edu
    or Don Allen Roth, RothDon@uwyo.edu

In this week’s eSkeptic we present an Opinion Editorial by Michael Shermer originally published in the Los Angeles Times, March 30th, 2005. Michael is a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, and the author of Science Friction (Henry Holt).


Not Intelligent, Surely Not Science

by Michael Shermer

According to Intelligent Design Theory (IDT), life is too specifically complex (complex structures with specific functions, like DNA) and irreducibly complex (reduce a complex structure by one part and it loses its function, like eyes) to have evolved by natural forces. Therefore, life must have been created by a supernatural force – an Intelligent Designer (ID). ID theorists argue that since design can be inferred through the methods of science, IDT should be given equal time alongside evolutionary theory in public school science classes. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, and Tennessee have all recently proposed legislation that would require just that.

The evolution-creation legal controversy began in 1925 with the Scopes’ “monkey” trial over the banning of the teaching of evolution in Tennessee. The media attention generated by the trial caused textbook publishers and state boards of education to cease teaching evolution altogether, until the post-Sputnik scare rejuvenated science education in the 1960s. Creationists responded by passing equal-time laws that required the teaching of both creationism and evolution, a strategy defeated in a 1968 Arkansas trial in which the court ruled that the law was as an attempt to establish a religious position in a public school and was therefore unconstitutional. This led to a third strategy of passing equal time laws for “creation-science” and “evolution-science,” that in 1987 ultimately found its way to the Supreme Court of the United States. By a vote of 7 to 2 (Rehnquist and Scalia dissenting), the Court determined that a Louisiana act requiring public school teachers to teach creation-science “is facially invalid as violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, because it lacks a clear secular purpose” and that the act “impermissibly endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind.”

This history explains why ID proponents are careful never to specify the nature of ID 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.”

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 the theory 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 in Whitworth Today: “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. Scientifically speaking, 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.

ID theorists admit as much. At a 2002 conference on Intelligent Design, leading ID scholar William Dembski said: “Because of ID’s outstanding success at gaining a cultural hearing, the scientific research part of ID is now lagging behind.” In 2004, ID theoretician Paul Nelson wrote in Touchstone, a Christian magazine: “We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. 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 ID is not science, then what is it? In a 2005 web article on “Intelligent Design’s Contribution to the Debate over Evolution,” Dembski wrote: “Thus, in its relation to Christianity, Intelligent Design should be viewed as a ground-clearing operation that gets rid of the intellectual rubbish that for generations has kept Christianity from receiving serious consideration.” IDT founder Phillip Johnson, a law professor at U.C. Berkeley, wrote in a 1999 article in Church & State magazine: “The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence 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, 2005, I debated ID scholar Stephen Meyer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. After two hours of debate over the scientific merits (or lack thereof) of IDT, Meyer finally admitted in the question-and-answer period that he thinks ID is the Judeo-Christian God and that sub-optimal designs and deadly diseases are not examples of an unintelligent or malevolent designer, but instead were caused by “the Fall” of man in the Garden of Eden. Dembski has also told me privately that he believes ID is the God of Abraham.

In my latest book, Science Friction, I address IDT’s scientific claims point by point, so here I would like to address the underlying problem with the theory. “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. IDers 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 “ID did it” does not explain anything. Scientists would want to know how and when ID did it, and what forces ID used. Invoking ID as God’s place filler can only result in the naturalization of the deity. God would simply become another part of the natural world, and thereby lose all of the transcendent mystery and numinous praxis that delimits religion and science.

1 Comment »

One Comment

  1. George says:

    I find this article a bit of the dog chasing the proverbial tail.

    For instance, in the last summary paragraph we could easily flip the terms and create (whoops, evolve?) the opposing argument.

    “Evolutionists cannot imagine, for example, how the bacterial flagellum could have been created; ergo, they conclude, it was evolved. But saying ‘Evolution did it’ does not explain anything…”

    Why can’t we admit that both sides of this discussion come to the table with a preconceived bias, or worldview which filters their interpretation of the evidence. This simply means both sides look at the same fossil or other parts of the natural world but infer different processes were involved.

    No one was there when these processes occurred. But, many here now speak as though they know with certainty exactly what happened. Yet the processes even the evolutionist suggests are filled repeatedly with mere metaphysical guesses.

    To exhibit the audacity of claiming anything but the evolutionist’s view as ‘science’ or intelligent reeks of an underlining and hidden agenda. Knowing the UNCHANGING NATURE of mankind, I would venture my guess that money, power, and politics within the ‘science’ community contains the real untold story of evolution vs design.

get eSkeptic
our free newsletter

Science in your inbox every Wednesday!

eSkeptic is our free email newsletter, delivered once a week. In it, you’ll receive: fascinating articles, announcements, podcasts, book reviews, and more…


Popular Articles
on skeptic.com

Here are the articles that people have been sharing over the last few days.

Carbon Comic

Carbon Comic (by Kyle Sanders)

Carbon Comic, which appears in Skeptic magazine, is created by Kyle Sanders: a pilot and founder of Little Rock, Arkansas’ Skeptics in The Pub. He is also a cartoonist who authors Carbon Dating: a skeptical comic strip about science, pseudoscience, and relationships. It can be found at carboncomic.com.

Help the
Skeptics Society
at no cost to you!

Planning on shopping at Amazon? By clicking on our Amazon affiliate link, which will open the Amazon Store in your Internet browser, the Skeptics Society will receive a small commission on your purchase. Your prices for all products remain the same, yet you’ll provide essential financial support for the work of the nonprofit Skeptics Society.

amazon.com

See our affiliate links page for Amazon.ca, Amazon.de, Amazon.co.uk, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble links.

Browse by Topic

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

Reality Check

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future

The battles over evolution, climate change, childhood vaccinations, and the causes of AIDS, alternative medicine, oil shortages, population growth, and the place of science in our country—all are reaching a fevered pitch. Many people and institutions have exerted enormous efforts to misrepresent or flatly deny demonstrable scientific reality to protect their nonscientific ideology, their power, or their bottom line…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine

Top 10 Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine

Topics include: chiropractic, the placebo effect, homeopathy, acupuncture, and the questionable benefits of organic food, detoxification, and ‘natural’ remedies.

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

Copyright © 1992–2014 Skeptic and its contributors. For general enquiries regarding the Skeptics Society or Skeptic magazine, email skepticssociety@skeptic.com or call 1-626-794-3119. Website-related matters: webmaster@skeptic.com. Enquiries about online store orders: orders@skeptic.com. To update your subscription address: subscriptions@skeptic.com. See our Contact Information page for more details. This website uses Google Analytics, Google AdWords, and AddThis tracking software.
‚Äč