Today I read in the newspaper that conservative groups throughout the nation, emboldened by their success in the presidential election, are pushing their initiatives at the state level. In Kansas, they have one the majority of the State Board of Education, and they will once again try to have the “Theory of Intelligent Design” inserted into school textbooks on biology. Let’s put this one to rest.
The so-called theory of Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory at all – it is a religious creed. And notice the subtle word-play…”Intelligent Design” as opposed to dumb-ass haphazard natural selection. Sort of like being pro-life instead of anti-abortion, despite a readiness to fry people in the electric chair. The notion, let’s call it that, is an old one, most memorably discussed by William Paley, a theologian, who asked, if we came upon a pocket watch in a meadow, would we not assume it was designed by an intelligent maker rather than having come about by chance and happenstance?
Well, if you are an educated urbanite with experience of machines, yes, I guess so, but so what. What if you are a 2oth century scientist and you come upon a glittering hard-edged thing that emits radio signals? Animal, vegetable, or mineral? Evolved organism, or designed machine? These Intelligent Design people love to try and prove everything in their religious system with a science they do not understand. They assume that the reasoning that they apply to things they see in our world apply to the natural world, but they have no reason to think that other than that this is how they are used to thinking. And when the 20th century scientist encounters the glittering thing, he cannot fall back on that happy way of viewing the world because he doesn’t even know if what he is looking at is alive! Our Mr. Paley in the meadow knows a machine when he sees one – why does he assume that nature is the same as a machine? Aha, he’s a closet Newtonian!! It’s easy to ennunciate a ‘theory’ built on an absurdly simple example chosen to appeal to unthinking ‘common sense.’
No, Intelligent Design explains nothing. Leaving aside the origin of the Intelligent Designer, it tells us nothing about how species change and arise. Most important, it is NOT a scientific theory. It cannot be tested, there are no experiments that verify it or refute it, and it cannot even be formulated except as a piece of wishful thinking built on predjudice, i.e., that our machine oriented view of things is the only way to think about them. The fact is, the natural world was NOT designed, and that is the wonder and beauty of it.
Of course, chance plays a big role here, and this is probably the most widely disseminated piece of mis-information about evolution that there is, i.e., that it is a random process. Nope – mutations are random, natural selection is not. If a mouse gives birth to a two-headed mouse, that mutation will fail, and die. If it gives birth to a mouse with super-eyesight, that mouse might survive, pass on the trait, and those mice might survive better, at a greater rate, and pass on the trait, and so on. It is not a chance process at all. In fact, computer simulations have re-enacted the evolution of the eye, and it doesn’t take as long as you might think – just a couple of tens of millions of years is all.
People seem to think, or want to believe, that a theory is the same as an opinion. It’s not. Darwin’s theory is an established fact. We only call it a theory to make clear that it is a proposition that was developed, tested, and proven by the scientific method. It is not a theory in the sense of speculative thinking. It is not a hypothesis – it has been proven too many times. Ordinary people use the word theory in a much looser way, but that is not what Darwin’s theory is. It’s rock solid – get over it, creationists! Yes, it is still tested, and sometimes challenged, but only regarding specific details of how it works out in the natural world.
If these people want the Theory of Intelligent Design included in the biology textbooks, then we must be more open minded. I want the theory of Satanic origins included, and the Native American creation theories there too. And what about the great Hindu theories of creation, eh? No end to it….