T Nation

Intelligent Design


This came up on a completely unrelated thread, so I thought rather than hijack the kooky conspiracy thread, I would start this one.

I haven't thought much about Intelligent Design before, other than to think that it sounded plausible, so I started to look into it a bit when the latest mini-controversy erupted.

Suffice it to say I think it's quite interesting, though it definitely doesn't seem to fit into the scientific-method kind of science (then again, a lot of stuff on origin of the universe doesn't seem to fit that category to me, but probably just because it's over my head).

Anyway, I would love for someone to explain to me precisely what the problem would be with "teaching intelligent design." I realize there could be lots of potential problems, but from what I understand of it, what I envision would be the teaching of exactly what's already taught, along with a day or two of presentation of the Intelligent Design hypothesis. I wouldn't have any problem with that, as long as it was taught as a hypothesis and with good statistical analysis.

Here's an interesting post from a weblog I like to read, Oxblog, on the idea behind teaching -- i.e. exposing people to -- controversial ideas:


OXBLOG SAYS "TEACH THE CONTROVERSY!" Step back for a minute from the raging debate about Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design. Instead of asking yourself which of these theories provides a better explanation for life on earth, ask yourself how we should conduct this debate in order to prevent the rise of even more antagonism between secular and religious culture in the United States of America.

Naturally, I do have a personal opinion about whether Darwinism or Intelligent Design is a better theory. The answer is Darwinism, hands down. In fact, I don't even belive that I.D. deserves to be described as theory in the scientific sense of the word.

However, that does not mean that I believe the best way to deal with the popularity of I.D. is to denounce it as a malicious hoax, a la Paul Krugman ( http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/05/opinion/05krugman.html ). Nor do I think that taunting and consdescension, in the manner of the cartoon above ( http://www.ucomics.com/tonyauth/2005/08/04/ ), serve much of a purpose.

But take a second look at that cartoon and ask yourself why alchemy, phrenology, magic and astrology aren't taken more seriously on the campuses of Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago. Is it because the vitriolic denunciations of secular intellectuals have persuaded people that these four pseudo-sciences are full of bunk, or is it because pseudo-sciences can't survive the laboratory competitions imposed on every competing theory by modern science?

You might say that when it comes to Intelligent Design, I prefer a Darwinian approach. Let the better theory survive. In fact, I'm even willing to let local school boards in Pennsylvania and Kansas mandate that I.D. get a fair hearing in the classroom. Let the kids read books and essays by Michael Behe ( http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0684834936/103-4800239-0328620?v=glance ) and William Dembski ( http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0830823751/qid=1123648043/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/103-4800239-0328620?v=glance&s=books ), alongside criticism of their work ( http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/050530fa_fact ). (After all, getting kids to read books about anything would be an important accomplishment for many of our public schools.)

Some of the kids who read these books will be persuaded by what they read. I'm guessing that most of them won't. And that might even be besides the point, since the moment any of these kids steps onto a college campus they will be thoroughly indoctrinated by Darwin's heirs. (I was. I don't regret it.)

But here's the real silver lining for all of those liberals who are concerned about Christian fundamentalism invading our schools in the guise of Intelligent Design. If conservatives are serious about "teaching the controversy", then perhaps they will also be willing to teach the controversy when it comes to liberal add-ons to the public school curriculum, such as birth control and homosexuality.

When it comes to education, I like to think of myself as a true liberal: let the kids sample everything, instead of waging culture wars designed to deny them access to controversial ideas.

Roe v. Wade: 42 Years in the Past

This is a fantastic book, please read it.



There are...holes in the theory of evolution (see Jerry Pournelle's site for discussion) to varying degrees. However admitting them (and admitting there may be an inteligent cause) is kinda like...oh I dunno...admitting that global warming ain't due to man's carbon dioxide emissions. It's un PC.


The blog entry reflects my thoughts on teaching I.D. Offer up both ideas (I just can't dignify I.D. as a theory, at least from a scientific pov), let the kids actually think for themselves and decide which one makes the most sense of the available data.

I have no problem with the idea of a divine creator, whatever you want to call it. I do find it hard to believe an intelligent creator is responsible for micro-managing every single function of our bodies, our planet, our eco-systems, all the life on the planet and throughout the universe.

One question I read recently really rang true: would an intelligent(and I assume benevolent) designer create a micro-organism that causes blindness or a gruesome, painful death in one of his/her other creations?

There are some folks who seem to think that if something is still called a theory, it has no basis in fact nor has it been proven. A theory can also be a system of thought and inquiry that remains open to recieve and adapt to new information as it becomes available.

My concern with teaching I.D. as a scientific rival to Darwinism is that I.D. has not been subjected to the rigorous scientific research that evolution has.

The U.S. is already starting to fall behind places like China and India in terms of scientific research and I fear we will wind up with an isolated backwards country populated by a bunch of religious morons. This is probably an extreme outcome that will never come to pass but really, should we be behind China?



Guys, Look into the Cognitive theoretical model of the Universe (CTMU) from Michael Langan. And then of course Howard Blooms (Luciefer principle and Global Brain). Both these mens ideas changed my life maybe you'll find them somewhat intriguing.

The problem with teaching all these opposing science "theories" is that there will be no seeming end to this.

I.D is one thing and even if it is completely abolished from this planet due to some immensely profound scientific or logical revelation or permeation in the thought of the collective conscience, there will sprout, without much ado, a new theory from the religious minded thinkers pretty immedietly to take its place; for thier very universe of thought and act would crumble without one and this lack of hope would simply destroy them. Vice versa for the science group.

The actual battle here is between two groups both looking in opposite directions , yet with extreme bias, at the same thing and these opposite points of perception are causing diverging conclusions to emerge.

Just my two sense.



Ive always thought that if thier was one true creator, and the three major religions do worship the same dude, why would is he so imperfect as to create three diverging modes of worship and then make it so (through the gift of human nature) that they all hate each other?


Back to my question. Why?

Just my two sense.



Nicely put, Amir.


My problem with "Intelligent Design" is that there seems to be nothing intelligent about it, IMO. All you have to do is look at basic endocrinology to see that everything in the human body affects everything else to some degree or another, which is the antithesis of good design.

The systems in the human body really do resemble the models you get from evolutionary computer systems. You might get a robust solution, but it is a real mess to untangle what's happening inside it.


I think that you wouldn't find many religeous or secular people defending magic and astrology. If you're very religeous, you might consider astrology to be evil since it entails seeking spiritual guidance from a source other than God. Of course you may just think it's bullshit in any event as well.

Phrenology doesn't even deserve more than one sentence as to why it's not taken more seriously.

Alchemy is probably poorly understood today because it came in many different forms. It is however probably an important step in real scientific investigation. Isaac Newton is the most famous alchemist, so clearly some important work was done in it's paradigm. However, we now know that there are more than four elements, and that transmutation cannot turn any metal into gold or silver. So that's probably why it's not taken more seriously today.

In response to your main question. There's nothing wrong with teaching intelligent design, just don't do it in a science class. There is no such thing as an ID hypothesis since by definition, a hypothesis is testable and falsifiable.


Seriously, what % of science Ph.D.'s who are educated in the field of biology or similar in the Western World believe in I.D.?

If the number of professional scientists with Ph.D.'s who believe evolution is incorrect and ID is the answer is over 20%, then I say sure, give it a mention.

If the majority of people pushing for I.D. are NOT scientists but consist of, say, church-going plumbers, I have a problem with it.

Just because there is more than one side of an issue does not mean that every side has equal merit. If 98% of the educated population of experts in a given field all support theory A, and then a 2% fringe minority support theories B-F, let those in the B-F camp win over the professionals in the A camp before they start wasting my time with their opinions.

"Balanced" reporting, or "Balanced" education is a misleading name if you do not apply weights to the opinions. If I write an article and give 50/50 treatment to two sides that represent an 90/10 division of opinion, I am actually skewing the perception of reality with my article.

I could just as easily come forth and say that I firmly believe thunder is created by my personal god THOR. I could probably then go out and find you religious texts that state that very same premise. I could mention hundreds if not thousands of years of tradition to back up this claim, and say that I have untold thousands of individuals in history who would support my position. I could say, "Hey, I don't care what these other 'scientists' think, I want THOR taught in earth science class."

And while I was at it, I could go and research the official traditional Hindu position on the topic, and I'm positive that the First Nations People of Canada have something to say about the meaning and origin of thunder as well. These better be offered along side, too.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure that the Tasmanian Devil causes twisters... I'm sure I saw that on television. I'm convinced that millions of children and adults alike have personally WITNESSED this...


As the article states:

Both are "theories" both should be taught as such.


That's pretty much the problem scientists have with I.D. It's not a scientific theory; it's creationism repackaged to appear as one. You can't test the theory, hence you can't refute it. You can't make predictions from it either. Basically, it fails every test that a scientific theory or hypothesis should allow.

I've got no problem with it beign thought in religious studies or as theology. Calling it scientific when it's no such thing is dishonest.


Only one is a scientific theory and deserves to be taught as such.

People need to learn the difference between what science calls a "theory" and a "hypothesis". Even "laws" in science are subject to eventual revisions or corrections (before someone jumps in with "the LAW of gravity.")

When something is accepted by the scientific community as an established theory, it means that there is a lot of evidence supporting it. There might be some counter cases and such, which indicate that the theory needs to be perfected or refined; but as a whole, the theory (which is a model to explain some real world phenomenon) is solid.

Evolution has many such problems and will probably see many adjustments done over the years. But it explains so many things so well that it is very unlikely to be replaced by an alternative theory.

I.D. takes all of the problems of evolution and solves them by saying "the Intelligent Designer did it." This is basically untestable and unverifiable (unless someone can actually produce the Designer for and interview... anynone?)

That's why I.D. is not a theory, but simply repackaged religious beliefs. Creationism ( http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/Creationism ) was, of course, in dire need of repackaging. But doing so doesn't make it science.


This is a very interesting article:


It's kind of long, but here's the editor's summary:

[i]William Grassie, founder and director of Metanexus Institute, writes on "the problem with Intelligent Design." Ranging from Richard Dawkins to Chairman Mao, Grassie pursues a hermeneutical strategy that deemphasizes the stalemated conflicts between atheism and theism, or between purposelessness and meaning. Employing instead a pragmatic approach, he focuses on the issue of natural history: "It is vital that we separate known natural history from the interpretation of that natural history. We can debate the meaning of the Cambrian Explosion, but we should not be denying that it happened... We should not conflate the 'what and when' questions with the 'how and why' questions."

Not wanting to confuse science with scientism, Grassie's pragmatism respects the findings of natural science while leaving open the philosophical and theological questions that remain. In his words: "To focus on natural history, what happened when, is to separate the more responsible Intelligent Designers from the Young Earth Creationist extremists. As long as we are not denying natural history, then we can entertain and excite our students with lots of debates within biology about 'how' and 'why'."

William "Billy" Grassie, Ph.D. is founder and executive director of the Metanexus Institute on Religion and Science [www.metanexus.net]. Metanexus currently runs some 300 projects at universities in 36 countries. Grassie also serves as executive editor of the Institute's online magazine and discussion forum with over 140,000 monthly page views and over 6000 regular subscribers in 57 different countries. He has taught in a variety of positions at Temple University, Swarthmore College, and the University of Pennsylvania. Grassie received his doctorate in religion from Temple University in 1994 and his BA from Middlebury College in 1979. Prior to graduate school, Grassie worked for ten years in religiously-based social service and advocacy organizations in Washington, D.C; Jerusalem, Israel; Berlin, Germany; and Philadelphia, PA. He is the recipient of a number of academic awards and grants from the American Friends Service Committee, the Roothbert Fellowship, and the John Temp leton Foundation. He is a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). [/i]

I think that actually gets to the crux of the debate. I don't know that anyone would be pushing for the ID explanation to be taught if there weren't already a "why" explanation being taught.


This post is also interesting -- I think I'm learning a lot looking into this stuff. I'll have to get my hands on some books..



On the other hand, all this is a far cry from teaching "Intelligent Design" as if it were science, which it obviously is not.

But, to skip ahead a little bit, consider some of the debates in cosmology. George Lemaitre ( http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/science/sc0022.html ), the originator of the Big Bang theory, was a Belgian Catholic priest. It cannot have escaped his notice, and may well have played a role as an esthetically motivating factor, that his theory of creation was consistent with the idea of divine creation. Many other scientists then disliked the Big Bang for equally esthetic reasons. Einstein really liked it, but Fred Hoyle, for example, hated the notion, and came up with the moniker "Big Bang" as a term of derision. These days, Stephen Hawking, as least as of A Brief History of Time, goes to extraordinary lengths, for example, to come up with a model in which there are no "days without a yesterday," that is, no universe that actually had a beginning. Hawking, Dawkins and many other scientists, some of them great scientists, are not motivated just by a dispassionate love of the truth. They are as eager to find that there is no God as others are to find that there is.

A more contemporary cosmological debate concerns the idea of multiple universes. Apparently it would solve various quantum puzzles if we suppose we are but one of a practically infinite number of universes. But, take another current notion, some version of the anthropic principle, that notes the extreme fine tuning of the physical constants that allows for the evolution of life in the first place. This really is an odd thing. Suppose as science progresses, it just seems odder and odder. One way to dispell this oddity is to postulate that there are in fact a practically infinite number of universes, and we just happen to live in one, as of course we would, where life happened to evolve. If extreme fine tuning is the only evidence of infinite universes, however, this amounts to cosmology done on a no-design principle. We would be postulating an infinite number of otherwise unobserved universes in order to avoid the implication of design. Well, that's a lot to postulate. Indeed, an infinite number of universes is so much that it is hard to see how you could postulate more. We are not in this position now; this is just a guess about where cosmology could end up in a few decades. The point is that it would be mere ideology to say infinite universes had to be accepted on scientific grounds. And it might be to say, there must be a God, as well. More generally, theistic or atheistic esthetic motivations are going to play a role in science, and neither one should be advantaged. What we observe in Nature should do the choosing between hypotheses. Some people think God plays with dice, some think he doesn't, some people think there is no God, only dice, and for all I know, some people think there aren't even any dice, either. Everybody needs a reason to get up in the morning, but the science part comes from letting the evidence decide who is right.

One final cryptic comment about ID. One place where it goes wrong in my view is its naive view of randomness. What if random processes want to evolve into living systems? Does that show there is no design or that the design is woven right into the math? There are lots of deep questions here that both ID and its critics do not seem especially hip to.


Here's an excerpt from an article:

In fact, the "fairness" argument is itself disingenuous. Scientific ideas that have become sufficiently mainstream to be taught in high school have survived a gauntlet of stringent tests. The first takes place when proposals are published in peer-reviewed journals, often resulting in severe criticisms that must be addressed. After publication, the proposals must be compelling enough to prompt exploration by other researchers. If they survive perhaps 20 years of testing against evidence, they may make it into high-school texts. ID proponents wish to bypass these messy steps and go directly into classrooms. Key aspects of other theories such as relativity and quantum mechanics remain hotly debated in the literature, yet there is no call to "teach the controversy".

ID is not really science, it cannot be disproven. If someone conclusively proved that an organism came about by evolution, all ID advocates have to do is say "Sure that one did, but not these other ones. They were designed." ID also makes no testable predictions.

Since it is not science, do not teach it in science class.


I actually did a search a found that there are already several institutions in the U.S. that teach creationism or ID. There 320,000 of these places in nearly every town in America! It seems there are already plenty of places to learn about a designer, etc. from, I don't see why there needs to be any more.

If you're interested in finding one of these institutions of learning in your hometown, click here: http://www.americanchurchlists.com/ACL/index.aspx




Intelligent design theory wants to be considered a scientifically viable hypothesis without acquiescing to the basic requirements of empiricism. By its very nature ID lacks a quantifiable, testable hypothesis, depending instead upon logical syllogisms and rhetorical questions to which ID theorists claim evolution has no answer. ID theory in and of itself is neither silly nor ignorant, but makes itself both in its stubborn refusal to utilize any sort of scientific methodology to "prove" its point.

This indicates to me that there is no real scientific basis for the theory, but more importantly, to teach ID even in the face of all this undermines the value of scientific objectivity and empiricism, without which science as a whole loses much of its credibility and usefulness as a tool of reason.

For those looking for a well-reasoned explanation of the ID debate, I recommend Robert T. Pennock's "Tower of Babel."


The answer is a fairly high percent, and almost none of them think it should be taught as science.

I don't believe that ID should be taught in highschool, or as science. This is because it completely accepts the observable effects of modern evolution (and guys, its not strictly Darwinian) and then uses poor logic and a poor understanding of statistics to add in the need for the "watchmaker" or whatever.

When people call evolution a theory, they are making a mistake. Evolution is a fact (and ID accepts that) but the theory of evolution is the theory of precisely how the fact of evolution works.

And I believe in an intelligently designed universe and that people were the inevitable outcome of evolutionary processes because of God's design, but the official THEORY of ID is a very superficial patchwork theory that ignores things like the meaning of statistical probabilities in a quantum universe, and offers no testable mechanism. Statistical improbabilities do NOT MAKE A THEORY, EVER! If you accept the observables of Evolution which ID does, and you find statistical improbabilities, you look for explanations that can be observed, you don't just toss on an unobservable explanation and use the anomalies as proof.

And who really want ID taught in schools? I have had kids who believed in staunch atheism, wicca, very young earth creationism (6000 years), young earth creationism (50,000 years), evolution with an independent creation of humans, but I can't think of any who believe ID.

You can look for scientific evidence of God, but not statistics. We may find that there are molecules that have actively guided the evolution of DNA inextrably to lead to us. That would be quite different as it doesn't use statistical anomalies as the evidence. Formal ID theory is a bunch of crap and makes a real discussion of an intelligently designed universe look like just more of the same.