The theory of Intelligent Design, or ID, got a lot of press a while back because of court cases about whether this theory should be taught in public school science classes. The proponents of ID have been very clever and successful at trying to portray their theory as a scientific theory. As such it would have to be given an equal hearing along with other scientific theories - that's their plan. The fact is, however, that ID has been completely debunked on many fronts. On this page I try to explain why the theory of ID is just so much hot air and is not, in fact, a scientific theory at all but merely thinly disguised creationism.
The age of a theory is irrelevant to its correctness, of course, but the proponents of ID often try to present it as some "new and amazing breakthrough in thinking," which it most definitely is not. In fact, the theory dates from at least 1802, decades before Darwin presented his ideas on evolution. William Paley, an English clergyman, presented the Watchmaker Argument in his book Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. In brief, the argument goes like this: if you are walking in a meadow and come across a watch, and observe its intricacy and obvious purpose, you cannot help but conclude that it was intentionally designed by someone - the watchmaker. Living creatures are also very intricate and seem to be designed to survive, therefore there must be a "designer" who brought this about- in other words, god.
I won't try to discredit the "watchmaker" theory here, it has aleady been done many times, and those with open minds can find this information for themselves. I merely want to show that the theory of ID is nothing new.
This is an important point. Despite the fact that its proponents use a lot of big scientific words and perform a variety of impressive sounding calculations, the fact is that ID is not science (although its supporters try to present it as such). In order to be scientific, a theory must make predictions that can be tested. Another way of putting this is that a scientific theory must be falsifiable - it must be possible, at least in theory, to find evidence that will disprove the theory. ID fails this test. ID makes no predictions, not a single one, so there is no way to disprove it. As such it is not a scientific theory but a religious one - and there's no place for it in science classrooms.
Nope, not the smallest most insignificant shred. There are, however, arguments for ID and these are covered next.
There are several arguments that ID proponents put forward in support of their theory. All fail.
ID proponents love to point to certain biochemical pathways, such as the clotting of blood, and claim that they are "irreducibly complex." By this they mean that the complex system could not have developed one part at a time, as would seem to be necessary with evolution, but must have come into being all at once as a complete system - in other words, a designed system. There is no doubt that certain aspects of life are extremely complex, and the individual parts may seem to fit together in a seamless whole. The fact is, however, that scientists have countered every example of an "irreducibly complex" system that ID proponents have advanced, providing a perfectly feasible explanation of how the system could have developed gradually through the workings of evolution. Of course we do not know whether these explanations are actually true - after all, biochemical changes that evolved hundreds of millions of years ago have left no fossils - but the fact that a feasible natural explanation exists removes all credibility from the ID claims. Yet this does not stop ID proponents from making these claims.
As a side show to the "too complex" claims, some ID proponents have taken to calculating the probability that certain biochemical events could have occurred naturally. They come up with truly miniscule probabilities and therefore argue that there must have been a designer because something with a probability of 0.000[add as many zeros as you like]001 could never have happened on its own. This is a specious argument. For one thing, these calculations are all fraught with assumptions. Scientists know very little about the biochemical processes that must have occurred for life to begin, and they can only guess at the conditions that existed on earth billions of years ago. These calculations are filled with guesses and assumptions, and the ID proponents always slant things, consciously or not, to get the kind of answers they are hoping for. The bottom line is that these probability values that they throw around are meaningless. Even if they were not meaningless, the truth of the matter is that extremely improbable events occur all around us every single day. Just because something is improbable does not mean it cannot happen, particularly given the immense time frame of evolution.
Yes, there are gaps. So what? No one has ever claimed that the theory of evolution can explain every detail of how life on earth came to be. It is, after all, a scientific theory and therefore is based on evidence. The evidence that exists - fossils, comparative anatomy, laboratory experiments, and field observations - all supports the theory. But what evidence is available from events that occurred hundreds of millions or even billions of years ago, events that left no fossils or whose fossils have been destroyed by geological processes? Of course there are gaps in the theory but that does not reduce its validity. There are fewer gaps today than there were 50 years ago, and there will be still fewer another 50 years down the road. There are gaps in the theory of gravity too - do you therefore need a supernatural explanation for why things fall?
It is not unrealistic to say that there is vastly more evidence supporting the theory of evolution than any other scientific theory in history. This evidence is truly staggering in its volume, breadth, and consistency. Evolution is as close to a proven fact as anything ever gets in science.
ID proponents are very careful not to say anything about the nature of the supposed Designer - and with good reason. They are desperate to present their ideas as "scientific" and of course any whiff of the supernatural would immediately destroy their pseudo-scientific facade. But an elementary application of logic shows that their theory must lead to a supernatural being. Let's take a look.
- At some link in the chain of Designers, one Designer arose through purely natural processes without the need for a previous Designer. If this Designer could arise through purely natural processes, why not life on earth? This possibility destroys ID through logical inconsistency.
- At some link in the chain of Designers, there was supernatural intervention. This possibility destroys ID as a scientific theory, relegating it to the realm of religion.
I hope that this very brief exposition has helped you to understand what the theory of Intelligent Design really is.
If you want to believe that a god or other supernatural being had a role in the creation of the universe and the life it contains, that's fine. Just don't confuse religion with science. They are both essential aspects of civilization, but trying to inject one into the other is a very bad idea.