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Wanting to Teach Intelligent Design

In recent years, there is a push by politicians and religious leaders for teachers to present the concept of Intelligent Design (ID) in science classes. The proponents claim this is not teaching religion but this is science. Unfortunately the bottom line for Intelligent Design is its religion not science.

While googling for an explanation of Intelligent Design, I found this, which I assume is probably representative:
"As Christians we all know that God created the world by wisdom (cf. Psalm 136:5). For the Christian there is no question that an intelligent cause underlies the world. The question is rather an epistemological one - how do we know that an intelligent cause underlies the world? It is here that intelligent design wants to challenge the way science is currently practiced, arguing that intelligent causes belong within science, that intelligent causes can do things which natural causes cannot do, and that we can know the difference. It is one thing to hold as a faith commitment that an intelligence underlies the world, but then be unable to read the book of nature in a way that makes this intelligence evident. It is another thing to look at the world and find features in it that can be reliably correlated with intelligent agency. In the latter instance, attributing the world to an intelligent cause is no longer simply a faith commitment, but actually constitutes a scientific inference."

At the very heart of Intelligent Design is the religious concept (from the Western religions, like Christianity, not the Eastern religions like Hinduism) that all was created by God, according to the master plan by the architect of the world. Intelligent Design is nothing but a search for signs that God created some thing, rather than the thing was created by a natural process.

There is certainly much in nature that is not yet understood. Even something so pervasive as gravity, an action at a distance, is a mechanism that is not understood even though everyone accepts its presence and it is measurable, repeatable and predictable. An earthquake is somewhat explainable as far as some of the natural mechanisms involved in the event but the process is not defined well enough to be predictable. The proponents of Intelligent Design could pursue such natural processes and claim they represent signs of God's design but I suspect that the obvious danger here, risking justified ridicule, is that the scientific method of study, theorize and test will eventually attain that understanding. To consider how much more science can explain natural processes compared with just 100 years ago, natural human curiosity and determination have lead to many advances in human knowledge.

Instead Intelligent Design is set up as the alternative to the commonly held beliefs about the theory of evolution. Certainly there are holes in the theory as expressed by Charles Darwin in the 19th Century. Many of those holes are inherent in the problem of reconstructing history, finding fossils in the earth of different life forms with an, intact unbroken record over many years. In 1955 Immanuel Velikovsky published Earth in Upheaval that used a history of signs of cataclysmic evolution to dispute Darwin's theory of the origin of species by natural selection but this was a scientific argument about an alternate version of history, not about finding signs of a supernatural cause of events instead of natural explanations. Often the Intelligent Design arguments against evolution are with those beliefs published long ago that have since been discounted rather than with the subsequent theories that better match the observed historical record. Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory search but it is really just a search for proof that God created the universe, a variation on earlier pushes for creationism. Intelligent Design is an approach looking for a negative, that something occurring in nature cannot be explained at this moment.

I appreciate the flair Alan Watts had for comparing Western and Eastern religious world views. From the book Nature, Man and Woman, published in 1958 (with all emphasis in the original):

"The incessant changefulness and flowing impermanence of nature is seen as a symbol of the fact that the Tao can never be grasped or conceived in any fixed form. The artificial style of Christianity is nowhere clearer than in the idea of God as the maker of the world, and thus of the world itself as an artifact which has been constructed in accordance with a plan, and which has, therefore, a purpose and an explanation. But the mode of action of the Tao is called wu-wei, translatable both as "nonstriving" and "nonmaking." For from the standpoint of Taoist philosophy natural forms are not made but grown."

"It is fascinating to watch the formation of nature's most unnatural-looking object - the crystal. For it does not appear in the solution piece by piece but altogether at once, as if it were a projected image gradually coming into focus upon a screen. Even when such an object as a plant-stem grows linearly, it does not do so by mere addition, as one builds a wall of bricks or pours concrete. The whole form expands from within, and this direction - from within - is exactly the meaning of the Chinese term for "nature," tzu-jan or spontaneity."

"The form of Christianity differs from the form of nature because in the Church and in its spiritual atmosphere we are in a universe that has been made. Outside the Church we are in a universe that has been grown. Thus the God who made the world stands outside it as the carpenter stands outside his artifacts, but the Tao which grows the world is within it. Conceiving, then, man and the universe as made, the Western and Christian mind endeavors to interpret them mechanically, that the universe consists of distinct things or entities, which are precisely the structural parts of artifacts. Man himself is a part, brought from outside the total assemblage of nature as a part is added to a building."

The creation of a human being is certainly a wondrous thing. A person starts with the union of a sperm cell from a male and an egg cell from a female. This single cell replicates itself and then differentiation occurs as the human form develops. (The Wiki embryo entry offers many links for the various stages of its development.) A human being grows from a single cell over the course of just a few months. The corollary to this discussion of Intelligent Design is that there is a controversy about the moment when a human life begins (quoted from here). "Their denomination and/or religion teaches that God injects a soul into the zygote at the instant of conception. Even though it is composed of only one cell, it becomes a human person at that time due the presence of the soul. The concept of a soul is unique to certain religions." Again there is this religious belief of construction by God rather than the realization that this is a natural growth process, that a human being grows and develops rather than is injected into existence.

I am certainly all for better quality education. However I oppose presenting to our children the Christian world view, that God created everything, as being in some way science. Other authors have argued how unscientific is the search for signs of the Creator. I wished to point out here that Intelligent Design is a concept based in certain religions, not based on science. It is based on the religious philosophy that also isolates people from their natural environment and denies a person grows out of this environment as it discounts the complexity of nature.

created - November 2006
last change - 11/05/2006
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