What Intelligent Design Is-and Isn't

The more scientifically sophisticated we get, the stronger the argument for intelligent design.

BY: Jay W. Richards

 

Unless you've been hiding in a cave, you've heard of "intelligent design" (ID) and some of its leading proponents-Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski. Unfortunately, you probably got the mainstream media's spin. It's so predictable, I sometimes wonder if reporters aren't using computer macros.

The reporter types control-alt "CE" and out pops the witty headline: "Creationism Evolves." Control-alt "Scopes Trope" and out pops a lead referencing the old Spencer Tracy film "Inherit the Wind," a cartoon-like caricature of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial over evolution in the classroom.



Control-alt "Conspiracy" and, presto, a paragraph about the religious right and its scheme to smuggle Bibles into the science class as the first step toward establishing a theocracy. Next comes a quotation supposedly representing the view of all "serious scientists," with the phrase "overwhelming evidence" thrown in for good measure. The story practically writes itself, and it possesses this virtue: it saves the reporter the bother of actually investigating what design theory really is.



Victor Victorian


So what is ID, really? ID is not a deduction from religious dogma or scripture. It's simply the argument that certain features of the natural world-from miniature machines and digital information found in living cells, to the fine-tuning of physical constants-are best explained as the result of an intelligent cause. ID is thus a tacit rebuke of an idea inherited from the 19th century, called scientific materialism.



Natural science in the Victorian Age, or rather, its materialistic gloss, offered a radically different view of the universe: (1) The universe has always existed, so we need not explain its origin; (2) Everything in the universe submits to deterministic laws. (3) Life is the love child of luck and chemistry. (4) Cells, the basic units of life, are essentially blobs of Jell-O.



Onto this dubious edifice Charles Darwin added a fifth conjecture: All the sophisticated organisms around us grew from a process called natural selection: this process seizes and passes along those minor, random variations in a population that provide a survival advantage. With this, Darwin explained away the apparent design in the biological world as just that-only apparent.



Each of these 19th-century assumptions has been undermined or discredited in the 20th century, but the materialist gloss remains: There is one god, matter, and science is its prophet. It hides behind its more modest cousin, methodological naturalism. According to this tidy dictum, scientists can believe whatever they want in their personal lives, but they must appeal only to impersonal causes when explaining nature. Accordingly, any who discuss purpose or design within science (the founders of modern science generously excepted) cease to be scientists.



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