Intelligent design, about which I have learned far more than I would have liked, isn’t a theory at all. It’s the idea that when faced with the current frontier of detailed understanding of biological systems, we should stop researching, throw up our hands and accept it’s magic.
Yes, that’s right. ID isn’t science. It’s like an old medieval map that says we know the way from London to Bristol but much west, into the Atlantic, of Bristol “There be Dragons”. ID is a dismal attempt at codifying the limits of biological science on faux-theological grounds. I shall ignore the fact that it is merely the Sylvester Sneekley for Creationism’s Hooded Claw for the moment because let’s stick to the science for a bit before we get on to that. OK?
The Twentieth Century has seen many advances in physics and mathematics that are, or seem to be, about fundamental limits on human knowledge. Aspects of quantum mechanics, relativity and of course Gödel’s incompleteness theorems spring to mind. Now strain these ideas through the mind of a cracker barrel philosopher with a certain religious axe to grind and then apply the resultant filtrate to biology and you get ID. Of course we all know Einstein showed everything was relative (he didn’t) and that QM shows nothing can be known (it doesn’t) and that Gödel proved nothing can be proved (he didn’t) but let’s not let the technicalities of differential geometry or quantum commutators or even diagonal lemmas get in the way of what we just know to be true already. Oh, Lordy no! And then for an encore apply these utterly misconstrued precepts to biology by a half-assed argument by analogy. Biology doesn’t push the boundaries the same way math or physics does. It pushes different boundaries. It’s boundaries are not so much those of spacetime or logic but those of truly deep complexity. If you think about it that is obvious and the reason these things are different disciplines is much the same way that the greatest spin-bowler of all time isn’t the greatest centre-forward of all time and vice-versa or that Mozart and Maxwell despite both being geniuses were hardly interchangeable.
Anyway this is my tuppence on ID. It’s the pub bore’s (stands to reason, read it in The Express, must be true?) misapplication to biology of a misunderstanding of the physical and mathematical sciences where it’s neither wanted nor useful nor true in any meaningful sense of that word and the harnessing of an invented Zeitgeist to drag the thoroughly discredited concept of creationism into this century without it being laughed at out loud that much. It is deeply disingenuous in the same way Old Skool patent remedies are. I have much more time – much more – for people who simply say they believe the world was created in six days, “Because the Bible tells me so” than for these pseudo-scientists who dress the rotting corpse of their faith in The Creation in a frayed lab coat for yet another go at an argument they lost on scientific grounds a century ago**.
Creationists (and as Peter points out IDers are creationists) frequently claim “Darwinism” (like no other scientist ever worked in the field! – we have classical physics not “newtonism”*) leads to all manner of social ills and almost to a form of nihilism. I have never understood this. Science is morally neutral and it is the creationists who attempt to make it something other than that – essentially they “socialize” science and want it to aim for what is “good” rather than what is true. The truth sometimes hurts – get over it!
Certainly, to me, there is a greater grandeur to the Universe than anything in Genesis though I can understand why someone brought up on six days might be upset by the truth. There has to be more otherwise we have all been wasting our smiting time*** since the Bronze Age when, obviously, all was set aright by a bunch of bearded lunatics wandering around a desert. Why is it that religions have a tendency to arise in deserts and similarly inhospitable terrain? Might I suggest it’s because there is fuck all else to do other than to make shit up?
I feel sorry for the IDers. They are denying themselves the knowledge of truly exquisite beauty in favour of what my brother would call “best bollocks”. The user guide to this Universe was stolen by Prometheus and the fire is not in deliberately cryptic nostrums from burning bushes (I once set fire to a bush by mistake and she almost killed me****) but in The Calculus***** and in Darwin and all the rest of those cats.
The metaphor of bringing light into darkness is over used but science does bring light into the dark and ID is deliberate obscurantism and that is not and never can be science. Science is plus ultra or it is nothing. We can end up going back to shivering in the cave or sending spacecraft to Europa. The choice is that simple.
*”newtonian” is usually given the lower case. Well, you figure that out…
**The final nail in the coffin of creationism was hammered home by Hans Bethe. He demonstrated that the stars shone by nuclear fusion. Hitherto Kelvin’s theory had the stars shining by gravitational collapse. Kelvin was wrong. Bethe was right (or I really did waste a lot of time) and it shifted the time-scale dramatically. Sad story in a way. The day he got his theory down he had a date and his potential inamorata, as he was walking her home, said something about how beautiful the stars were that night. Bethe replied, “Yes, and only I know how they shine”. She wasn’t impressed. So Bethe didn’t even get tops and fingers that night but I guess the Nobel sort of made up for it.
***Kinda like Hammer Time but with less voluminous trousers.
**** In the garden. Does that make it better?
*****See *, there are many calculi but only one is capitalised. I never claimed science was consistent in it’s nomenclature.