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Meditation 48
Evolution Vs. Intelligent Design

by Jennifer Hancock

Jennifer Hancock is Executive Director of Florida Humanists. This article is reprinted from the Florida Humanists web site with permission.

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For those of you who have not heard of Intelligent Design yet, Intelligent Design is being promoted as an alternative theory to Evolution. Proponents claim it is a scientific theory and should be taught in the schools along with Evolution or in place of it. This battle is occurring at the state and local school board levels. This article is designed to give you a background on Intelligent Design so that you can intelligently address the claims of its proponents.

The first thing you should know is that Intelligent Design is a useful concept - in the Information Sciences. It has not yet made the jump into the field of biology - and for several reasons. It may eventual make that leap - but it is highly unlikely that it will ever replace the highly useful Theories of Evolution. Instead - if it makes that leap - it will probably act to modify the theory, not replace it.

The 2nd thing you should know is that while it is a useful theory to the Information Sciences, it is not in the strictest sense, a scientific one. To be a scientific theory, you need to be able to make predictions of future activity based on that theory, these predictions are used to test your hypothesis/theory. If you cannot make a prediction, you cannot test it, and if you cannot test it, it is not a scientific theory.

So what is exactly is Intelligent Design? Intelligent Design assumes an intelligent creator. Which is reasonable in the case of a computer program where you can observe a programmer developing the program. It is possible that in the process of creating a program - a virus may also be created. The question that is then relevant is - did the programmer intend to create the virus or not (ie: was the virus intelligently designed or not). While it is possible to ask the programmer that question, you may not necessarily rely on their answer, especially, if the virus has caused damage to other systems. So... if you had a series of tests that allowed you to determine whether the virus in question was of Intelligent Design or not - that would be very useful, and would eliminate the need to subjectively question the programmer. That is the theory anyway - creating accurate tests and measurements based on that theory is a whole other problem that has not yet been solved.

The problem of applying this theory to the biological sciences should, at this point, be obvious. The proponents of Intelligent Design as an opposing theory to Evolution are assuming that there is an intelligent designer, presumably a god of some sort. We cannot, however, observe this supernatural influence the way we can a computer programmer, so to even speak of Intelligent Design is inappropriate in the biological sciences, except however, in the case of bio-engineering, where it may be reasonable to ask whether some effects of genetic manipulation were intelligently designed or not - i.e.: whether they were intended or accidents.

If Intelligent Design is allowed to be taught in the public schools as an alternative theory to Evolution, several problems will result. The first of these is that it will be nearly impossible to teach. A quick look at web sites promoting the theory will show you the most basic problem. It does not make any sense when applied to biology. The name of the theory has a nice sound - which is why the Christian apologists have taken it up, but that is about it. The reality is that it is not a scientific theory and it has yet to be applied to the biological sciences. There is no curriculum and no body of knowledge to draw from, as result, teaching this theory will be nearly impossible.

The other more dangerous problem is that teaching Intelligent Design as the Christian apologists demand will stifle creative thought and inhibit reasoning in our children. If for instance a child was considering why a dog is the way it is. Using the theory of evolution might then lead a child to ask several questions about the dog. Why does it pant? Why does it bark? The numbers of questions that can be asked is innumerable. And for each question, it is possible to find an answer using the scientific method. Science and the theory of evolution are very useful in this regard. If however, a child is pondering why a dog is the way it is and tries to apply Intelligent Design to the questions, the only possible answer is that God made it that way. The next logical question is "Why?" And, since that is a question that cannot be answered, all further inquiry is pointless. If we want to teach our children to think and to question and to find answers, then continued education in Science and Evolution are the best methods to do that. If however, you want to create mindless drones that will accept authority without question, then attempt to teach them Intelligent Design.

As Humanists dedicated to the promotion of reason and compassion, we must insist to our school boards that Intelligent Design is not science and should not be taught in the schools.