What's Wrong with Intelligent Design? Part 1
by, 24th July 2012 at 03:21 PM (1724 Views)
What’s Wrong with Intelligent Design?
The concept of intelligent design has gained some ground in the past decade and a half or so in popular culture. The idea seems, on its face, to be entirely reasonable: that the creation and evolution of life were or are determined by an as-yet undetermined “intelligent agent.”
So, what is intelligent design? How do its advocates define it? What evidence do they use to support it? And what are the problems with that evidence?
This series of posts is written to explicitly define, identify, and refute intelligent design as a scientifically tenable position. This is not intended to refute an individual’s belief in an intelligent agent, or as a criticism of religion – only as a brief but comprehensive look at this scientific “theory.”
What is Science?
Science is a formalized system seeks to expand the scope of human knowledge through testable predictions and empirical observation.
Scientific research, in practical terms, is based on finding a gap in human knowledge on a particular subject – whether it’s the composition of the universe, how energy is transferred, or how certain species in an ecosystem interact. That gap in knowledge is then filled by careful observation of the phenomena in question, and the generation of a hypothesis: that is, an explanation for the observed phenomena which is falsifiable.
Falsifiability is perhaps the most important aspect of a scientific hypothesis: one must be able to perform a test which shows the null hypothesis (that is, that the hypothesis one is testing is unrelated or does not explain the phenomena in question; Null hypothesis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) is false, and that the hypothesis being tested is a viable explanation for an observed phenomena.
Given enough data (that is, tests which attempt to falsify a hypothesis) a hypothesis may be elevated to the category of “theory,” – a much different term in science than in colloquial usage. A theory in colloquial terms is a best guess – an idea that is untested or unproven; a theory in science is a hypothesis which has been tested repeatedly, and never found to be false. Only the best ideas are elevated to the level of “theory,” in science – and even then, it only takes a single conclusive test to show that a theory is wrong. If that happens, the theory must be changed or abandoned altogether; but once falsified, an unaltered theory is no longer considered correct.
What is Intelligent Design?
Intelligent design is espoused as a “scientific hypothesis,” by which one can infer the action of an intelligent agent in the beginning and/or evolution of life on Earth. It is defined by the Center for Science and Culture (a part of the Discovery Institute) as:
Source: Intelligent DesignIntelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Through the study and analysis of a system's components, a design theorist is able to determine whether various natural structures are the product of chance, natural law, intelligent design, or some combination thereof.
Intelligent design specifically challenges modern understandings of evolutionary biology by inferring a purpose or intent to evolution, rather than a fully naturalistic process.
Source: Intelligent Design - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)However, the dominant theory of evolution today is neo-Darwinism, which contends that evolution is driven by natural selection acting on random mutations, an unpredictable and purposeless process that "has no discernable direction or goal, including survival of a species." (NABT Statement on Teaching Evolution). It is this specific claim made by neo-Darwinism that intelligent design theory directly challenges.
Now, even by the very definition of intelligent design there are problems. Evolution by natural selection in modern biology is not an “undirected process,” (see first quote) because natural selection is not random. Randomness implies that any one out of multiple possible outcomes has an equal probability (i.e., rolling 1-6 on a six-sided die; each number has a 1 in 6 chance of appearing). Natural selection is a non-random process – if the environment lacks abundant food for a particular species, the members of that species that are better able to find food, or survive and reproduce on limited food supplies will pass on their genes, leading to a change in the number of members of that species that have the trait that allows them to survive in a limited food environment.
By way of analogy, let’s say that there are ten people rolling die, but that any number above two is eliminated and excluded from subsequent rolls (this would be akin to an environmental pressure). Then let’s suppose that you have a weighted die, where the number 1 is more likely to come up on any individual roll of the die than any other number (this is analogous to an advantageous mutation in an individual’s genome). Thus, after a few rounds of rolls, it’s far more likely that you’ll still be in the “game,” than any of the other competitors – changing the frequency of weighted die on the table, and allowing your “survival,” in an environment which is unfavorable to non-weighted die.
Another problem with the definition of evolution as given by the Discovery Institute is that they say it is “unpredictable,” (see the second quote). This is not true: given a particular environmental pressure, we can predict very well what will happen – either the organisms in that environment will adapt, or they will die off. Now, it is unpredictable in that we cannot say precisely what mutations will occur that allow for adaptation to the environment, or that we cannot say they will necessarily happen at all (it’s entirely possible, and indeed likely, that the whole population will simply die). Yet to characterize the process as “unpredictable,” suggests that evolutionary theory is not a falsifiable hypothesis: that it does not make testable predictions.0 Thanks, 0 Likes, 0 Dislikes
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