Saturday, August 13, 2005

Is Intelligent Design science?

Is Intelligent Design science? In its pure form, yes. However most advocates and opponents do not know what the Intelligent Design hypothesis is. The Intelligent Design (ID) hypothesis states that an "intelligent designer" sometimes modifies the natural world and that these modifications can be detected (reference). ID does not contradict evolution, but claims only that evolution may be incomplete. It is important to note that ID does not specifically support the biblical version of creation either.

Intelligent Design proponents claim that there are four classes of evidence for ID:

1. Today's science can't explain everything.

2. Some living things are too complex to evolve.

3. Designed artifacts have specific properties that can be detected and some living things have these properties.

4. Some living things are irreducibly complex, meaning there is no gradual way to develop them in small steps (reference).

All of these arguments are incredibly weak. Taken one at a time:

1. Today's science can't explain everything. True, but science can explain at lot more today than yesterday, and will be able to explain even more tomorrow. Imagine a million years of progress at today's pace. This "can't explain" argument is very, very weak.

2. Some living things are too complex to have evolved. Really? I get paid to use artificial evolution, programmed into computers, to solve aerospace problems. This is a part of computer science called evolvable systems. This field is a well known problem related to complexity. As our artificial systems evolve they tend to become excessively complex. People write learned papers about how to avoid this excessive complexity. Evolution has no problem creating complex things.

3. Designed things have certain properties that can be detected. Again, evolvable systems says this is untrue. John Koza, a well-known figure in the field, has used genetic programing (one evolvable systems technique) to produce circuits that violate patents. In other words, genetic programs have produced exactly the same design as human designers. Thus, in at least some cases evolution can produce results that are indistinguishable from designed artifacts.

4. Irreducible complexity. This is ID's best argument. It states that some things are complex in such a way that they could not be produced one little bit at a time by evolution or anything else. Even proponents of ID will admit that one can never prove that there is no evolutionary path to, say, the human eyeball. In fact, irreducible complexity actually reduces to the first argument: today's science can't explain the evolutionary path to some biological systems. However, tomorrow someone may well come up with a perfectly reasonable evolutionary path. It is up to the ID community to come up with at least one case of irreducible complexity, and this case must stand up to critique and close scrutiny. They haven't done that. Even if a case survives years of such scrutiny, it may simply be that no one has yet been clever enough to see an evolutionary path. Irreducible complexity is a very weak argument.

There is nothing wrong with a weak hypothesis. A hypothesis is, by definition, something that has not yet been proven. At any given time, there are tens of thousands of hypotheses, most of which are much stronger than ID, but not all. A few may find their way into classrooms as examples of how science works, but the proper activity for the proponents of any hypothesis is to gather evidence, make predictions, and publish the results. Sometimes a weak hypothesis gets stronger with new evidence and may even become a scientific theory.

Darwinian evolution is a scientific theory. In science, a theory is a concept that has a great deal of evidence, has made successful predictions, and has stood the test of time. Evolution is an immensly successful theory, with mountains of evidence and many successful predictions to its credit.

So why are ID proponents pushing such a weak hypothesis into public schools as an alternative to well established evolutionary theory through the political process, rather than patiently gathering evidence, making predictions, and seeing if the predictions are born out?

Because the proponents of Intelligent Design want their God in science class, and that violates the Constitution of the United States of America.

It is heartening that the religious zealots who are trying to cram this stuff into public schools have so little credibility that they have to dress their God up in the trappings of science. Not long ago they didn't even pretend to consider the scientific method as the path to truth.