Where you intelligently designed?

Where you intelligently designed? This should be an easy question to answer, but politics and stubbornness has made the answer much more complex. I hope to reduce that complexity in this essay.
The first problem is that many religious people have made the assumption that the theory of evolution rules out the possibility of a creator or designer, and thus refuse to listen. A subset of these people have then tried to create scientific theories to replace evolution. But, without truly understanding how scientific inquiry works, they make mistakes. So the first thing we need to is set aside the question of whether a creator exists and focus on the question of what a scientific theory entails. Many writers at this point would prefer to define their terms, but I will not. First I want to give you an example to explain what I mean, then I will give you the preferred term. The form of this example comes from my experience teaching biology classes.
To start, I want you to think back to when you were a teenager. Most likely, your parents gave you a curfew, and warned you that you would be in serious trouble if failed to return home on time. Then you hear about a great concert that you want to attend, but there is no way to go without breaking curfew. A smart choice might be to ask your parents for permission (yes, I am a parent) but you are afraid they will say no. So you have to choose whether the concert is worth the punishment (which is unknown at this point). You consider what sort of consequences your parents have given you in the past, usually a stern lecture and being grounded for a few weeks. A grounding might be worth it, but are you sure that they will not give you something worse. You are beginning the scientific method at this point; you have asked a question (What is likely to happen if I break my curfew) and proposed an answer (a stern lecture and being grounded). The next step is to come up with a way to test your thoughts. So you put your idea into the form of an if-then statement, which makes designing a test easier. If I come home after curfew, then my parents will lecture and then ground me. You have created a hypothesis which can be tested. In this case the test is pretty easy – come home late. If you get a lecture and grounded, your hypothesis is probably correct. However, if you don’t get grounded, your hypothesis was definitely incorrect and must be changed. Now, no self respecting scientist will declare a hypothesis proven until they have tested it multiple times and in multiple ways if possible. But in this scenario multiple tests would likely produce progressively harsher punishments, so we will pretend that one grounding is enough to confirm your hypothesis. The next step, after confirming your hypothesis is to rephrase it from an if-then to a when-then statement. When I come home after curfew, then I am going to be grounded. This would be called a law. A law is a summary of many observations which allows you to predict the outcome of future trials. Having a law is good, but your curiosity is not satisfied yet. You are still wondering what causes your parents to ground you. Are they doing it because they are angry that you broke their arbitrary rules? Or maybe because they afraid for your safety when they don’t know where you are late at night? So you generate a second hypothesis, if my parents ground me, it is because they are afraid for my safety late at night. (Okay, that hypothesis shows I am a parent.) How do we test this hypothesis? Stay out a few minutes past curfew, then call with a reason for being late and show your parents that you are safe. If your parents don’t ground you, then your hypothesis is supported (likely to be true), but if you are still grounded then your hypothesis probably false. Let’s assume your parents do what I would, thank-you for being responsible, offer to help, and not ground you. And again we will cheat and let one trial suffice. You can now state your results in the form of a when-then, because statement like this: When I miss curfew, then my parents will ground me because they were afraid of me getting hurt. This is a theory. It contains the law (when-then) and an explanation of why the law is correct (because . . .).
Hopefully you can see that to a scientist, a theory is considered to be more confirmed than a law. Both the law and it’s explanation are tested (extensively) and confirmed in all of the tests. This is a very important point, even though it is common to think scientific laws are more important than theories, it is in fact, just the opposite. Before a theory is accepted both parts of it must be tested extensively and verified. Before Darwin proposed his theory of evolution publicly he spent more than 25 years collecting observations all of which supported it. And it took many years further, before the scientific community fully accepted his theory.
From the above discussion you should also be able to see that testing a hypothesis is the most critical step in the scientific method. No hypothesis can be accepted as a law or theory until it is thoroughly tested. Which brings us to the second problem with a hypothesis like intelligent design – it cannot be tested. No hypothesis involving a supernatural being (whether you call it a God, a Creator, or a Designer) can ever be truly tested. The supernatural being is above or beyond the laws of nature. You can design a test, but the supernatural being always gets to choose whether it will participate. Thus you cannot trust the results of your test. In fact the only thing you can test is whether the influence of a supernatural being is necessary for something to happen. For example, the theory of evolution explains how a single species can evolve into multiple species after it is split into several groups, each in a differing environment and no longer interbreeding (and this has been tested in a lab as well as demonstrated in nature). Which does not prove that a designer isn’t participating in the evolutionary process, only that a designer isn’t necessary for evolution to occur through natural laws.
That is why intelligent design is neither scientific, nor a theory. The only prediction it makes is a supernatural being set creation in motion, a prediction that cannot be tested. If that being decides to reveal themself, it is a true hypothesis, but it wasn’t scientific. And since tests can only show certain processes don’t require the active participation of a designer, intelligent design can never move from hypothesis to theory. At this point at least one of my students would always point out that I haven’t proven intelligent design to be false, and they are generally surprised to find that I completely agree with them. No person can prove intelligent design to be true or false, therefore it is not science – it is religion or faith (belief without proof.)
So back to that original question, are we the product of intelligent design? The only possible answer is, maybe. It is simply a question of faith.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s