Eating the Apple

Eve did it. Adam did it. Now it's my turn to take a bite. Why not? Hey! It's delicious.

Monday, November 28, 2005

On The Possibility of a Scientific Theory of Intelligent Design

Proponents of the Theory of Intelligent Design argue that this theory should be taught in science classes. It seems self-evident that the proper subject matter for a course in science is science. And to many people the Theory of Intelligent Design doesn't qualify as science and therefore should not be taught in science classes. The proponents of the Theory of Intelligent Design have yet to overcome this objection.

The purpose of this essay is to inquire whether this objection to the teaching of the Theory of Intelligent Design can be overcome so that this theory can be legitimately taught in a science course.

First, let me state some basic facts about the nature of scientific inquiry. The great goal of scientific research since the beginning of modern science hundreds of years ago has always been to find natural explanations of natural phenomenona. In this respect people of today have a very different outlook from ancient peoples. In ancient times people believed that all natural phenomenon were controlled by gods. If one became sick, for example, it happened because a god was angry with that person. But today we understand that illness is caused by bacteria and viruses. We look for natural explanations.

Secondly, scientific knowledge results from the application of observation, experimentation, accepted theories, and logical reasoning.

Third, scientific results must be publically verifiable. Suppose a scientist says that something specific will result from a new experiment. Other scientists will repeat the experiment. If they do not obtain the same results, the original findings are discredited. That is what is meant by "peer review". In this way a scientific theory must be falsifiable.

Fourth, our confidence in a scientific theory arises from its ability both to organize existing knowledge and to make predictions of new discoveries. For example Edmond Halley used historical records and Newton's Theory of Gravity to predict that a certain comet would appear at a certain time. As a result of that successful prediction, that comet is now known as Halley's comet. The theory of evolution has become a basic organzing princicple in biology even though very few predictions are possible. The critics of the theory have contended that there must be certain transitional species. The recent discovery of such a species confirms the prediction and supports the Theory of Evolution.

These four conditions are fundamental to the acquisition of scientific knowledge in fields like physics, chemistry, and biology. There are difficulties with these conditions in certain fields. In astronomy we cannot experiment on stars and galaxies. However, experiments with particle accellerators have shed light on the fundamental processes that operate within stars. In spite of this difficulty we have built up an impressive body of astronomical knowledge.

In the social sciences there is a serious problem with observation. An anthropologist, for example, cannot observe the feelings and beliefs of the people he studies. He can only know what these people say about their feelings and beliefs. For this reason the social sciences are often called "soft sciences"

With these four principles in mind, let us turn to the examination of the Theory of Intelligent Design. Let us enumerate the questions that must be answered before the theory can be regarded as having any scientific credibility.

The concept of 'intelligent design' implies the existence of an 'intelligent designer', some entity who can intervene intentionally in our universe. Words like 'intelligence', 'designer', and 'intention' charaterize living beings. At the risk of appearing redundent, I shall use the convenient acronym LID to mean a 'Living Intelligent Designer'. So now let us ask, what are the necessary attributes of a LID?

The term 'intelligence' implies an organ of intelligence, We call such organs brains. However the 'brain' of a LID might be very different from our understanding of brains. This leads to:

Question #1: Of what substance is the 'organ of intelligence' of a LID composed?

Science deals with four fundamental entities, matter and energy within a framework of space and time. By matter is meant atoms, molecules, and sub-atomic particles. There are several forms of energy such as light, heat, and kinetic energy. If something cannot be described in terms of matter, energy, space and time, then it cannot come under the purview of science. If the answer to this question is that a LID is made of spiritual material, then that means that the Theory of Intelligent Design has no scientific foundation.

The term of intelligence also refers to the process of thinking. Thinking means the formulation of intentions, the evaluation of alternatives, the prediction of consequences, and emotions such as joy and anger. In our brains thinking seems to relate to electrical activity in and between the nerve cells of our brains. Of course the thought process of a LID may be very different from ours. Therefore it is relevant to ask:

Question #2: How does a LID think?

Thinking depends upon memory, i.e stored information. We know of two very different models of memory. First, our brains depend upon a biological form of memory which is not well understood. In addition we are familiar with several types of memory used in computers such as hard disks, silicon chips, flash memories, and old fashioned core memories. But all types of memory have one thing in common, they store information for a period of time. Of course the memory of a LID may be quite different. Therfore:

Question #3 How is the memory of a LID organized and how does it operate?

It is not enough that a LID can formulate intentions. It must have the means of carring out its intentions. Thus:

Question #4 What organs does a LID use to carry out its intentions? Of what substances are they composed of? And how do they operate?

The processes of thinking and carrying out intentions involves the use of energy.

Question #5 What form(s) of energy does a LID use?

A LID requires a source of energy. It is unlikely that a LID has an infinite supply of energy. Very likely, an infinite supply of energy would destroy the universe. This leaves two possibilities. Either a LID can replenish its supply of energy, or its energy becomes depleted over time. The last alternative is unlikely since every living plant or animal that we know of replenishes its supply of energy. Thus:

Question #6 How does a LID replenish its supply of energy? What does it feed upon?

Living creatures use food not only as a source of energy, but also as a supply of materials for growth and for the repair of their bodies. Thus:

Question #7 How does a LID grow and how does it repair its body?

Every living creature that we know of has a finite lifetime. Only a few animals live more than 100 years. And only a few plants live more than 1000 years. Consequently, a species must propogate or become extinct. Thus:

Question #8 Does a LID have an infinite lifetime? If yes, how is it possible for a living being to have an infinite lifetime? If no, how do LIDs propogate?

This completes the list of question I have concerning the existance and nature of LIDs. No doubt, others can add many questions to this list.

Now I shall turn to the question of how we human beings can learn about the existance of LIDs.

Question #9 By what experiments, observations, and logical deductions can we obtain verifiable public knowledge of the existance of a LID or LIDs?

When a new scientific theory is announced, the proper attitude of other scientists is skepticism. And a scientist should remain skeptical until the evidence convinces him otherwise. At the same time a scientist should be open-minded. He should not ask for absolute certainty for in this world, absolute certainty is impossible. I think that the proper standard is the one used in criminal trials, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Doubts can be manufactured. Thus 'proof beyond all doubt' is not a reasonable standard. Reasonable doubts must be grounded in experiments, in scientific observation, or in logical deductions from accepted facts and theories. Reasonable doubs must be overcome before a scientific theory can be truly accepted.

Even so, scientists will set forth theories without having sufficient evidence to prove the theories. The Theory of Continental Drift is one such case. This theory was rejected by many scientists until the 1950's. Then the discovery of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge led to the Theory of Tectonic Plates which incorporated the Theory of Continental Drift.

Therefore, we should remain skeptical, but open-minded regarding the Theory of Intelligent Design. But we can ask the proponents of this theory to step up and take responsibility for providing evidence that proves their theory beyond a reasonable doubt. Or if they cannot do that, at least provide a plan for the gathering of this evidence. Thus:

Question #10 What experiments, what scientific observations, and what logical deductions would prove the Theory of Intelligent Design beyond a reasonable doubt?

Question #11 What plan of investigation could be formulated to provide the required scientiic evidence?

Now comes the big question. The power of a scientific theory, like the theory of relativity, often comes from new scientific observations predicted by the theory. The Theory of Relativity is a case in point. Many wierd predictions have been made from this theory, and all of the tests of these predictions have been successful. This is the reason that the theory has been accepted despite of the immense difficulty of understanding it. Thus:

Question #12 What scientific predictions can be made from the Theory of Intelligent Design and what publically verifiable tests can made of these predictions?

The main problem with the Theory of Intelligent Design is that it is like a magic wand. It can be used to predict anything that you want it to. Since it can explain anything and everything, it truly explains nothing.

Here are twelve questions concerning the Theory of Intelligent Design. I maintain that it is the responsibility of the advocates of this theory to provide publically verifiable answers that will satisfy knowledgable people who are skeptical but open-minded. Until these questions are answered, the Theory of Intelligent Design cannot be accepted as a scientific theory.

How many of these questions can be answered? NONE!

Until these questions are answered, the Theory of Intelligent Design does not rise above the level of mystical speculation. Now I do not intend to denigrate the importance of mystical speculation. It has had a powerful impact upon our culture, our values, and our history. Nor do I say that mystical speculation has no place in our schools. Mystical speculation could be taught in courses on mythology and theology, but NOT in science courses.

Or if the Theory of Intelligent Design must be taught in a science course, let it be sandwiched between the teaching of astrology and the flat earth theory.

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Copyright (c) 2005 by Tover van Ooteldonk. Permission is granted for the republication of this essay in its entirety in any form for any non-commercial, non-profitmaking purpose provided that this copyright notice is included.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Case said...

Your essay is quite interesting, but I believe it overextends the idea of ID, which is not to prove that a greater power exists, how it exists, and how it subsists. ID sets to prove the existence of a greater power by demonstrating in nature that certain relations are impossible without a guiding force behind it.

It's not relevant to the argument of ID to show how a creator exists in the infinity of the cosmos, but rather show its footprint on our world and thusly demonstrate its existence.

Because, you know, proof is such a messy thing to get. What with all that work and stuff...

7:54 PM  

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