How Intelligent is Intelligent Design?

Brother William Johns SSF (Society of St Francis) speaks out against what he considers bogus science.
This essay was originally published in Franciscan Angles, the Newsletter of the Society of St Francis.

Creation Science or Creationism is being promoted with a fresh image under the name "Intelligent Design" (ID). Hundreds of new movements have emerged from the religious melting pot of the twentieth century, and Creation Science is one of them. The problem is that it masquerades as a scientific theory, claiming a place in the school science syllabus. This is not only potentially confusing; it actually causes havoc in the field of real science education, sowing tares among the wheat, so to speak. Creation Science is a religious ideology, not science. There is a case for giving children a wide religious education, including as much of our contemporary religious landscape as possible. It is in this context that Creationism belongs.   

The notion of something that could be metaphorically referred to as "intelligent design" is not foreign to theoretical science. What is implicit in Creationism, as in much theistic religion, is an "Intelligent Designer". This is outside the agenda of science; it is theology. Creationism is a subset of fundamentalist Christianity based on a literal interpretation of the creation stories in Genesis. The new-look Creationism (ID) is the same religious package as before in more sophisticated dress. No one with eyes to see can fail to be struck by design in the world around them. From the tiniest insect to the Andromeda galaxy (the only one beyond the Milky Way visible to the naked eye) the sense of design is overwhelming. Scientists see order and design in everything from the simplest formations of energy, such as a hydrogen atom, to the visible universe as a whole.  

Design is implicate in the whole of the universe. Venerated theoretical physicist, David Bohm, and others propose an "implicate order" that resides in so far unobservable energy fields and dimensions, accessible only to mathematicians. There is nothing unscientific in the notion of cosmic design.

It is difficult to define exactly what we mean by intelligence. Psychologists, neurologists and others study our mental processes intensely; computer technologists claim to be capable of creating intelligence mechanically; philosophers debate the nature of wisdom and knowledge, but precise definitions elude us. Intelligence is a psychological (psychic or spiritual) quality we recognise in ourselves and, to some extent, in other creatures as well, but definitions apply only within the narrow parameters of some particular discipline.

Intelligence is not a separate ingredient, added to the universe from outside in relatively recent times. Whatever it is, it has been an innate cosmic quality from the Big bang or the moment when God said, "Let there be light!" We are part of an immeasurably intelligent universe, and we experience this quality in a particular, finite, human way.

There is nothing unscientific about the notion of intelligent design but the dogmatic assertion that the universe was created in its present form in six days a few thousand years ago by an "Intelligent Designer" is anti-scientific. It is certainly not an alternative scientific theory. It is not based on any scientific process. Creationists do not do what scientists do. They do not perform experiments and present their observations and hypotheses for peer review and debate through professional channels and in professional periodicals. Creationism is a religious ideology, a subset of fundamentalist Christianity.  

Creationists also part company with science (and reality) by denying that the universe, including our own terrestrial biosphere, is evolving. Geologists and astronomers have provided incontrovertible evidence that the universe is not the same as it was several million years ago or several billion years ago. Someone who sees the layered formation of rock, visible in many cliffs, can hardly fail to make the logical deduction that the different layers were deposited over a long period of time. The fossil evidence of a sequential development of Earth's living organisms from simple to complex, culminating in Homo sapiens is also overwhelming. It is impossible to deny the evidence that we exist in a changing universe. And it is not just changing mindlessly and chaotically. There is evidence that the change is meaningful; it has direction, though the future remains shrouded in mystery. 

The discovery in 1927 that the universe is expanding gave rise to the Big Bang theory and the gradual composition of a narrative of cosmic evolution. This story, scientific in its basis and largely metaphorical and mythical in form, is the result of millions of hours of cooperative observation, experiment, debate and interpretation by thousands of scientists, some of them among the most brilliant minds of our time. This is, of course, still a work in progress. In fact, in the light of the most recent discoveries, many scientists are now preparing to redraft the whole story. But this is science - observation, experiment, speculation and debate.   

Creationists do not make observations, perform experiments or debate with their peers through professional channels. Creationism is based on religious dogma. The London Daily Mail describes ID as "Creationism with a top dressing of equations, since these are what nowadays carry the incomprehensible authority once vested in the Latin Bible". Massively funded by rich American Christian fundamentalists they employ scientists to script their material. I am told that the principle organiser of the new ID campaign obtained a science degree specifically for this project. 

The operation is heavily political, lobbying for legislation that will make Creationist teaching compulsory not in religious studies, where it belongs, but in the science syllabus where, in some places, it has already done great mischief. The trouble is that some politicians do not know the difference between real and bogus science, and some are themselves Christian fundamentalists. It may be that genuine scientists and others who are concerned for our children's education may also have to do some lobbying.