User:Woozle/Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

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Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: a biased analysis

2007-06-05 Notes: This was written at a time when I hadn't yet extensively researched the situation. My conclusion now is more along the lines of "ID is just a thinly-disguised veneer of scientific-sounding language layered on top of creationism. Evolution may be just a theory, but it is a scientific theory; ID is, at best, an informal theory, and the more you try to get an ID supporter to define their terms or be specific, the more evasions you get. IDers and creationists believe what they believe because it fits what they want to believe, not because it's what the evidence shows."

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Point Counterpoint

  • The evolutionists do need to admit that evolution is just a theory, because it is.
  • The Intelligent Design (ID) folks need to admit that while evolution may be just a theory, it fits the facts very well, and while ID may be a theory in the most general sense ("a belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action" [1], "An unproven conjecture" wiktionary), it is not a scientific theory ("A coherent statement or set of statements that attempts to explain observed phenomena, which has testable implications, and which is well tested and widely accepted as true." wiktionary), which is (where any doubt exists) generally a requirement for including such ideas in academic curricula.
  • The scientists need to admit that just because something doesn't have a lot of supporting data doesn't mean it isn't (or couldn't be) true, although it may well mean that it is highly unlikely. They also need to admit that we don't yet know enough about the universe to say that it couldn't have been (or wasn't) designed by an intelligent being.
  • The ID folks need to admit that until they have a specific theoretical argument with some testable conclusions, postulating an intelligent entity (which itself would need to be explained) when there are other simpler explanations is, as they say, making things unnecessarily complicated*.
*complicated: see Occam's Razor, a principle attributed to a 14th-century Franciscan friar who apparently agreed that it made proving the existence of God rather iffy [2]
  • The evolutionists need to stop worrying that Intelligent Design will, all by itself, turn schoolchildren into Bible-thumping science-haters, and focus on making sure that the scientific method and logical thinking are taught well – so that those children will be immune from B.S. of any persuasion, which is really the greater battle* (regardless of which side of the Creation debate you're on).
*greater battle: "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." -- H. G. Wells

That said, the Intelligent Designers need to get much more specific about this theory of theirs, which seems (as far as I can determine, although as of this writing I have not found a concise statement of basic Intelligent Design theory; see Sources) a pretty weak theory. To look at a few obvious points: if a supreme being (often referred to as "God") did create the universe...

  • Where did He come from?
  • Did He mess with it any further after creating it, and if so did he ever stop?
  • If he is still tinkering with it, then why so?
  • Why couldn't it be that all the fossil and geological evidence we see is truly what happened, and part of His creation?

The evolutionists also need to recognize that just because a casual theory hasn't yet been formulated into something more scientifically rigorous doesn't mean that it's not worth following up. For instance: what evidence could we look for which might indicate the involvement of an extra-universal being (i.e. a being based outside the universe-as-we-understand-it)? More specifically: Would this require a clear violation of the laws of physics as we understand them, or could something be consistent with those laws and yet indicate interference from outside? What would be the difference between interference from outside and interference from beings within the universe but having more knowledge than we do?

The Intelligent Design folks should be asking themselves these questions too. They also need to admit (or understand) that, as far as scientific investigation goes, unless some of these questions get answered, postulating outside interference as the whole explanation is basically admitting defeat; it's the scientific equivalent of saying "well, it was done by magic", which goes completely against the scientific philosophy...

...which is, perhaps, back to square one. Is this what the discussion is really about – Empiricism versus other ways of discovering reality? If so, what is Intelligent Design truly based on? (Empiricism is often seen as being in opposition to continental rationalism; does the reasoning behind Intelligent Design arise out of something like continental rationalism, or some other school of thought?)