Column No. 65 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - June 16, 2005 (Slightly edited, Nov. 7, 2006
"Intelligent Design" (ID) is an hypothesis about the origins of life on Earth, the Earth itself, and the Universe. Although its developers claim that it is a science, by science's own definition of the term, it is not. Science uses the known to explain the unknown. Science uses data, physical evidence, measurement, reproducibility, experimentation, and an array of facts of this type, not just one. It then proceeds to make logical deductions based upon the array of facts that it has uncovered or discovered.
With two exceptions, ID attempts to explain the unknown, how life began and has come to be, as we know it now, in terms of the unknown. This is just what religion does. The essence of religion is to attempt to explain the unknown in terms of the unknown. This characteristic can be observed on a regular basis at any religious service and in any religious text. The exception to the religious mode of explanation that ID employs is that it does use facts, in a limited manner. Actually, it uses just one fact, a fact of observation and only observation: life as we know it is very, very complex. Rather than use an array of facts, as science does, it stops there. One fact.
The one other characteristic that ID has in common with science is that starting with its one fact, it then attempts to use logical deduction, if/then; if/then; if/then, to arrive at an explanatory conclusion. There is one little difference, however. Science uses logic to derive explanations for observed phenomenae from evidence that science has discovered or experimentally produced, using, however, an array of facts, not just one. That is, if this is the reproducibly factual case, then, using logic just the way ID does (the one method that they have in common), this is the most plausible, believable explanation. Such is scientific proof: here are a set of measurable facts, and over here is the best explanation for them at this time.
ID, however, uses logic only in an "it must be" mode that it has made up, without reliance on an array of facts or any of the other tools of science as laid out above. That is, ID states: life is very complex (provable; the one fact it cites); it could not have gotten here on its own, so to say (not provable; just a statement of opinion with no reproducible facts to back it up); consequently, there MUST have been an "intelligent" (not defined) force, with universal consciousness, around at the beginning of time (again undefined). It does not tell us why “there MUST have been” using anything other than pure guess-work, not information gathered from observation, analysis, and experimentation like science does; just that ‘there must have been.” This ID hypothesis postulates some guiding force, presumably in existence some time ago (how long appears to be unstated), endowed with "intelligence" (however that may be defined), such a force being responsible for life as we know it. How did this “guiding force” come into existence? That is, “Mommy, who made God?” This they don’t bother to tell us. This approach to developing an understanding of the origins of life on Earth has been criticized from many scientific quarters.
However, in this essay we are examining a different question. For our purposes here let us assume that the ID folks are right, that there was some conscious or sentient force around at or even before the beginning of time that set things in motion. The question then becomes, was it intelligent? Was it smart? Did it know what it was doing? Is it therefore worthy of our recognition, or, shall we say, worship? Well, using the ID method of deduction from one fact, I've got to come to the conclusion that given the evidence we have before us, evidence that the ID people themselves refer to, that is that the existence of the human species is the end result of the operation of forces that the Designer set in motion, it was not Intelligent Design that set the whole thing up. In fact (if I may use that term when discussing ID), looking at the facts present in our era, one must conclude that it was Not Very Intelligent Design at work, not Intelligent Design at all, in fact. For just look at what he, she, or it has produced, now and over the ages as the end product of all that work.
The human species is the one that slaughters itself in gigantic numbers. It is the one that slaughters huge numbers of members others species, indeed makes extinct huge numbers of others species in whole, species that also were presumably the result of the work of the original Designer. The human species is one that ravages the natural resources of the Earth into which it has come, so that certain of them, such as petroleum, will eventually be completely used up. It pollutes and indeed poisons the environment in which it lives, both for itself and for the other species, at an ever-increasing rate. Its current policies threaten its own very existence as a viable species and may threaten the future of all life on Earth.
Intelligent Design? Sadly, no. Couldn’t be. If there were some conscious force around at the beginning of all of this, given the final outcome of its work, the human species, using the one fact and the logical deduction method of the ID school, one must say that it must be characterized rather as the Not Very Intelligent Design source of all things.
Postscript: Obviously, my dear readers, I am making fun of the ID people here. At the same time I am showing, I hope, how the kind of reasoning they use can be put to produce any outcome they want. For example, in this case, given that they are factless except for the fact that life is very complicated, why could not the “Intelligent Designer” have come up with Evolution to produce the outcome he, she, or it desired?
The point is that all of this is beside the point. Except to the extent that its promoters are trying to come up with an alternative to the Theory of Evolution that could be taught in the schools so satisfying the goals of the Creationists (who have additional motives), “Intelligent Design” is not really interested in producing some alternative theory of the origin and development of life. What it is really interested in doing is attacking, and hopefully eventually destroying the utility of, science for making policy in our country.
There are a variety of reasons why the Creationists, “Intelligent Designers,” “clinical impressionists” (see No. 5 in my Schiavo Series), Dominionists, Rapturists, and etc. attack science as a useful means for understanding life and many other observed phenomenae. A major one is that they do not want science to be used to determine policy, whether the subject be when life begins, when it ends, stem cell research, global warming, environmental poisoning, regulation of the economy, agriculture/food, forestry, and so on and so forth. This is a subject to which I will be returning on more than one occasion. Suffice it to say now that the purpose of ID is neither to create a better understanding of how life came to be, nor to further develop the scientific method. It is rather to extend the foundation for Georgite policy making: “I want it; I say it; I think it; therefore it is right and we are just going to go ahead and do it regardless of what science might say about it, because science just gets in our way.”
Note: This column is based on a “Short Shot,” No. 64, “A Consideration of ‘Intelligent Design’ ” that appeared on http://planetmove.blogspot.com/, for which I am a Contributing Editor, on May 28, 2005.