"Intelligent design" equal to giving up

First published in the Alligator Online and reproduced here with the kind permission of the author,
Joseph Meert

Joseph Meert is Assistant Professor of Geology and Undergraduate Advisor Editor  Gondwana Research,  University of Florida

Should "intelligent design" be taught in schools? I say absolutely. It is an excellent topic for discussion in philosophy class or in a comparative mythology class.

Why does it not belong in a science class? "Intelligent design" is not science. It does not behave like science, and it does not produce like science. "Intelligent design" is a movement aimed at social and political reform hiding under the guise of science. The motivations of the "intelligent design" movement are clearly religious, and these religious implications were laid bare at the recent Scopes II trial in Dover, Pa., and in documents distributed by the "intelligent design" movement. "Intelligent design" found a loophole in the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard Supreme Court decision that struck down the teaching of creationism. They now want to use that loophole to insert a theocratically based social-reform agenda through a back door.

I find it equally amazing that 100 scientists were found who were "skeptical of the claims of random mutation and natural selection." How many of those 100 scientists have published their "problems"? Zero.

There are few, if any, peer-reviewed articles on "intelligent design". I'm also willing to bet that every single one of the 100 scientists has benefited directly from studies of evolutionary biology. I'm willing to bet they are healthy and able to sign the document because they have been treated with newer strains of antibiotics developed to keep ahead of the random mutations and natural selective processes that created antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

So what does "intelligent design" offer? Not much. The conclusion of "intelligent-design scientists" is that if something looks complex, then it could not have arisen by natural means and therefore an "intelligent designer" is responsible. That boils down to: "Hey, I'm a smart scientist, and if I cannot figure out how this might have evolved, than there really is only one 'thing' smarter than me, so God did it".

Supporters make the claim that the blood-clotting cascade is "irreducibly complex" and therefore must have been designed. If we accept this conclusion, what fruit does it bear? How does the hemophiliac benefit from this knowledge? "Intelligent design", for all its hyperbole, is really about giving up. Scientists do not give up when faced with a seemingly insolvable problem.

Good science does not move forward via political lobbying. Einstein did not insist that relativity be taught in physics class. He argued his case before his peers through scientific publication and through scientific presentations to those peers. He provided testable hypotheses, and when those hypotheses were confirmed by experimentation and observation, his ideas made it into high school physics textbooks. Einstein did not take out a large advertisement in The New York Times stating, "We the undersigned have serious problems with Newtonian gravity". He did not hire a lawyer to have relativity inserted in high school textbooks. He did not insist on a disclaimer in textbooks that said, "Newtonian gravity is a controversial theory".

I would also like to add that signing a document is a fallacious argument called "appeal to authority". A counter-example meant to demonstrate the illogical nature of this argument was conducted by the National Center for Science Education. Its "Project Steve" asked for signatures by scientists named Steve who find the evidence for evolution compelling. So far, more than 650 scientists named Steve have signed the document. If appeals to authority are compelling, then evolution leads "intelligent design" by a 6.5 to 1 margin using only scientists named Steve!

Lastly, the teaching of "intelligent design" may be illegal. The test case in Dover is likely to provide a first test for the legality of teaching "intelligent design" in classrooms. I predict that no matter which way the decision goes in this case, the movement will continue lobbying pressure and will continue to fail at producing fruitful scientific evidence for its claims.