Saturday, 20 August, 2005

I've read a lot of stuff in the press about the latest creationist plot to pollute scientific teaching in schools: Intelligent design. Intelligent design is marketed as an alternative scientific theory to evolution. It asserts that life is too complex to have been produced merely by chance and must therefore have been created, of course, they stop short of telling you exactly who this creator is because that would expose them for what they really are: religious fundamentalists.

The first question is should we be teaching this proposition in a science class. More precisely, does the assertion conform to the scientific principle? Well the idea behind science is that a proposed theory be falsified. If I found a single object in the entire universe that did not fall to the flaw when dropped from my outstretched arm that would falsify the laws of gravity. If I found a single particle traveling faster than the speed of light that would falsify relativity. If I found a way to measure the position and momentum of an object to greater accuracy then allowed by Heisenberg's uncertainty principle that would falsify the standard model of quantum mechanics.

Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory because there is no way to falsify it. If the proponents of Intelligent Design use a particular piece of physiology as an example of something too complex to have evolved and science subsequently explains it then the Intelligent Design crowd simply retreat to the next bit of biology that is as yet unexplained by science.

This is why Intelligent design is not a scientific theory because the Intelligent Design advocates can just keep on retreating (as other theists have in different guises have over the centuries) to something else that defies explanation. They then use this as evidence supporting their notion of God. It's like saying "I don't know why lightening happens, therefore God did it." There is honor to be had in just being honest and saying you don't have all the answers.

Some proponents of Intelligent Design claim that Evolution isn't a scientific theory either. This is nonsense because you can falsify evolution in principle. If a pig was born with wings and its parents genome had no genes associated with wing formation then this winged-pig would be inconsistent with evolution. It's mind-bogglingly unlikely that all the genes required to form a functioning wing could have been arrived at through a group of mutations that occurred in a single birth. Evolution can be falsified.

Even so, Intelligent Design is fraught with philosophical problems. For example, if life is too complex to arisen by chance then surely so is the designer. So who designed the designer? Your typical theist will then declare that the designer is God and He doesn't need to be designed. Well if God is arbitrary and does not require design then surely that means other complex things can arise without design. We arrive back at square one.


15:39:19 GMT | #Randomness | Permalink
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