Friday, August 19, 2005

An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Intelligent Design, Part I

Scientists don’t punt.

Suppose a scientist (or, maybe more appropriately, a natural philosopher in the late 17th century) were asked how the planets remained in their orbits, and responded, “There is no natural explanation for it. It is God Who keeps them in orbit.” This is a punt. The statement is not testable - there is no experiment that one can perform, no observation one can make, to test its feasibility. It makes no predictions, thus putting an end to the proceedings and allowing no further investigation. Thus, it is not a scientific statement. Worse, if one does not give a suitable scientific definition of “God,” nor try to explain the mechanism by which She performs Her feat, the statement is meaningless. The retort “You know what I mean” holds no water in scientific discourse. Replacing the word “God” with any other undefined term , or with “That-Which-Keeps- The-Planets-In-Orbit” or “Intelligent Designer,” provides us with a statement that is neither better nor worse than the original.

The “theory” of Intelligent Design says, “Currently, there is no natural explanation for the complexity of living organisms. Therefore, there must have been an Intelligence guiding the processes that led to the development of these organisms.” Aside from the fact that the first sentence may be false, we must ask, “What is the definition and nature of this Intelligence, or the mechanism by which It operates? What experiments or observations can be performed to test the statement’s feasibility?” It is a punt, in no less a sense than the example above.

More to come.


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