Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Evolution of Intelligent Design

   Only in America, the land that gave the world Crop Circle “experts” is there any “debate” about evolution, or any serious effort to gussy up such Flat Earth ideas as science. Even the Vatican accepts evolution as a scientific fact—and they didn’t exonerate Galileo until 1992. (I think the jury is still out on whether or not masturbation causes blindness.)

   Intelligent Design is not a theory, nor a credible hypothesis, and it certainly isn’t science. Beyond the fact that it was concocted by the same folks who tried to sell us “Creation Science” in the 1980’s, it’s an idea that is easily disposed of with a little logic.

   The premise of I.D. is simply this: If something is sufficiently complex or unlikely to arise spontaneously (through natural means), it therefore requires an intelligent designer. It’s a claim completely disproven by my income tax forms, but never mind that. The universe is fabulously awesome and incredibly complex, ergo, it was unlikely to arise spontaneously, ergo, it requires an intelligent designer.

   Problem: Anything capable of designing an entire universe would be less likely to spontaneously arise than the universe itself. So, the designer would require a designer. And that designer, being more awesome than the original designer, would require a designer—and so on, infinitely upwards, with designers designing designers. The issue is never resolved.

   Now, if you try to rescue this idea by claiming that the designer (God, Gucci, or whatever) is that which requires no designer, then you’ve just broken your own rule about unlikely things requiring designers and you need to go home. Intelligent Design shoots itself in the foot.

   I.D. is a silly, desperate rebranding of biblical Creationism. It first emerged around 1987, the year the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Edwards v. Aguillard that Creationism wasn’t any more scientific than talking serpents and, hence, couldn’t be taught in public schools. In response, born-again activists like Phillip E. Johnson and his Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (sounds real academic, doesn’t it?) have tried to throw a lab coat over the frock of Creationism and repackage it as a scientific theory. His “Wedge Strategy” is a movement to shoehorn theism into science classes and to force schools to “teach the controversy,” as if there were one. But he gives himself away by falling back on the Gospel of John to make his argument, and by rejecting “the materialistic basis of science,” apparently forgetting that the Bible is printed on paper.

   The term Intelligent Design first appeared a 1989 book, Of Panda’s and People, which challenges evolution and suggests that there is an actual controversy in science about its validity. There isn’t. Sure, there’s plenty of haggling about the details—but not the basic principle. If experts disagree on how many cylinders are under the hood of your Honda, it doesn’t mean the guys who claim it runs on hamster wheels have a serious point. No credible scientific journal has ever cited Intelligent Design as a possible alternative to evolution.

   Further, in the 2005 court case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, philosophy professor Barbara Forrest proved that the Panda book uses the term “intelligent design” in places where earlier drafts of the book used words like “creationism.” It was a fundamentalist scam. While the book’s logic does sound as if 100 monkeys randomly typed it up (they can’t always come up with Hamlet, you know), a lot of folks still buy into it. Sadly, few of them have a science degree of any kind. (Phil Johnson himself is a lawyer.) Of course, if the universe is so complex that it requires an intelligent designer, it’s even more logical to think that it requires a whole bunch of designers. It’s a pretty big place. Maybe Phil Johnson is a polytheist, rooting for the Titans of Greek mythology, or Hindu gods, which are so numerous they seem to outnumber Hindus. In any case, Intelligent Design a pious fraud.

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