I find myself in a quandary lately. Many people have approached me to ask for my thoughts on the trial underway in Dover, PA about whether or not Intelligent Design should be taught in public schools as an alternative to the Theory of Evolution.
I’m happy to answer the question, but warn folks that the answer is going to take about an hour or more to share. These are complicated questions that frankly have little to do with the scientific method and much more to do with questions of Philosophy.
I’m not a biologist. As such I really don’t feel qualified to make any comments on the present state of evolutionary theory. I do know that the modern model of how natural selection works is different and more sophisticated than what I was taught when I studied biology in 10th grade.
I do have some familiarity, though, with modern Cosmology. There are issues in Cosmology that have some connection with the question of Intelligent Design. Specifically the issue in Cosmology is whether or not the Universe that we see today has arisen from random chance or if it has arisen because of a pre-ordained design. The issue described is called the Anthropic Principle. In simplest terms, it states that “because we are here to observe the Universe, the Universe must have been ‘tuned’ so that our existence was fore-ordained”. (There are versions of the Anthropic Principle which would relax the “fore-ordained” language.)
As of now, there is no way to test the Anthropic Principle and decide whether it is right or wrong. (This is the case because at the moment we don’t understand what the predictions of Quantum Mechanics mean.) Since there is no way to test the idea, the idea itself is not really something that scientists study, it’s more a thing that scientists either believe or reject. Intelligent design appears to me to be similar to the Anthropic Principle in that you either believe it or not. It’s a philosophical issue not really a scientific one.
The larger problem comes, however, when people try to use Intelligent Design to support an argument that says that Evolution is wrong. As it is presently understood, evolution is a scientific theory that is testable and which has a large body of evidence supporting it. There is apparently evidence that does not support it, but that doesn’t mean Evolution is wrong, it means the theory is incomplete. If someone is going to replace the theory entirely, the new model must predict more accurately all things which the Theory of Evolution already predicts, and then go further and predict accurately things which Evolution has not been able to explain. Intelligent Design has not done this yet. And until it does, Intelligent Design is going to have a hard time being taken seriously by the scientific establishment.
But… My quandary comes from the fact that I do believe that the Universe was created and designed with a purpose. I have no philosophical problems at all with Intelligent Design. I just can’t prove that it’s true. I understand that my belief is not scientific. But that’s okay. Science is limited in what it can do and in what it can ultimately discuss. There are matters that belong properly to the realms of Philosophy and Theology. Maybe we need to stop trying to teach Intelligent Design in Biology Class and start pushing for educators to include it in the Philosophy Course instead.
At any rate, I have found that there is nothing in my scientific training that asks or requires me to disavow the first line of our Christian Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” It says believe, not “can prove”. There’s probably a very deep spiritual teaching in that choice of words.
There is so much more that I want to write about this. Most of all I’m trying to think through why this question is raising the sorts of hackles it is raising in our culture. There is (as physicists say) information in this observation… I’m just not sure what the information is.
So, more to come…