An intensifying battle over intelligent design (ID) to be taught in science classes has been emerging across the United States, alarming scientists and educators who consider ID as a political ploy to repackage religion under the guise of 'alternative science' to undermine the scientific theory of evolution. Policymakers in 24 states are weighing proposals to introduce ID in their public school curricula. Whether ID is a religious belief or a scientific theory is at the heart of the controversy waged in courtrooms and public forums.
Intelligent design holds that some complex developments observed in nature that cannot be explained by natural selection suggest design by an unspecified intelligent agent. Despite the absence of identifying the designer or creator, the theory of ID mimics the biblical account of creation - God created all matter, various forms of life, and the world out of nothing.
Intelligent Design (ID) fails as science
To be considered as a scientific theory, intelligent design must satisfy three criteria: 1) explanatory power; 2) plausibility; and 3) falsifiability. The National Academy of Sciences has declared that ID is not science because its intelligent designer cannot be observed (plausibility) or verified by experiment (falsifiability), and proposes no new hypothesis (explanatory power) on how the world is designed. While the scientific theory of evolution is supported by plenty of observable facts and repeated physical evidence found in the process of mutations, gene flow, genetic drift, adaptation and speciation through natural selection. The failure to meet all three requirements is a compelling argument against ID being considered as science.
Arguments for ID
The ID theory is largely purported by two arguments known as irreducible complexity and specified complexity. Michael Behe, a biochemical researcher and a professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, forwarded the concept of irreducible complexity in his book, Darwin's Black Box (Simon and Schuster, 1996). He claims that the removal of any one of the interactive parts of a cellular system would destroy the function of the entire cell. Therefore, intelligent design is the blueprint for everything to be in its right place to work. In The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press, 1998), William Dembski, a mathematician and a professor of science and theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, argued for the inference of intelligent design based on William Paley's famous 'watchmaker' analogy in 1802 Natural Theology. Dembski asserts that patterns exhibited in nature being not only complex but also specified infer some form of intelligent guidance in their formation.
Complex Adaptive System (CAS) vs. ID Arguments
The observations made by Behe and Dembski were inadequate and their conclusions faulty. The explanation for nature to be the way it is lies in the comprehensive theory of complex adaptive system (CAS). As a novel scientific theory, much of what is known about CAS involves a combination of mainly three accepted theories: evolution, chaos, and complexity. To put it simply, CAS is an open network system in which many independent, self-organized, yet interconnected agents (cells, species, individuals, societies, etc.) compete, evolve and adapt to a changing environment, resulting in an order of emergent system properties and a general pattern for the whole system.
As a response to Behe's assertion that a removal of a part would cause the whole system to fail; perhaps so in his example of a mousetrap (man-made contraption) but not so in a living cell that has the tendency to compensate the function of a missing part with another cellular part due to the cell's dynamic evolving system. According to CAS, a cell functions as a cellular system when all its interconnected parts spontaneously interact with one another. In addition, Behe dismisses an important aspect of a cell - organelles (protein, enzyme, gene, etc.) in fact, do evolve through natural selection to be of different types with specific functions.
Although Dembski uses the term 'complexity' in his argument on specified complexity, he seems to overlook a crucial point about complexity theory - that order arises from chaos due to complexity. The 'order of emergent system properties' appears to be Dembski's description of 'design'. And he assumes that a design implicates intelligence behind a complex pattern, which is not necessarily so, according to CAS. In the macroscopic world, one can see the natural hierarchy of emergent properties (e.g., from a grain of sand to a beach to a seacoast).
Furthermore, complexity theory could also explain the gaps in the fossil record that proponents of ID hold as evidence against evolution. Fossil record gaps are identified as punctuated equilibrium in evolution - long stable periods interrupted by a series of sporadic duration of rapid radical changes. The fact that the presence of old and new species coexist on our planet speaks as stark proof for evolution.
Moreover, the Miller-Urey experiment, which succeeded in producing basic molecules at the first stage for generating life from non-living matter, establishes the fact that natural processes could produce the building blocks of life from non-living matter. In reality, natural processes of nature can be explained without a divinity or an intelligence equation.
ID Supported by Discovery Institute
Behind the big push for a national dialogue on ID is the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank financed largely by conservative Christian donors. With a $4 million budget, Discovery Institute spends more than $1 million a year for research, polls and media exposure supporting ID. It also uses about 85 percent of its budget to funding researchers at major universities, and the rest of the budget to publishing religious writings and launching political ID campaigns. Since 2003, it has promoted the DVD, "Unlocking the Mystery of Life," which advocates ID shown on PBS stations in major markets and schools.
State vs. Religion
On the legal front, a courtroom drama over teaching ID in a public school had made headlines for weeks - a reversal of the famous 1925 Scopes 'monkey' trial in which a Tennessee man was prosecuted for violating state law by teaching Darwin's evolution. As the first ID court case followed closely by the media, the Dover Area School District was put on trial for violating the constitutional separation of church and state by teaching ID in science class. The judge is still out on the verdict. Emboldened by the "free speech" approach bolstered by President Bush who had endorsed teaching ID in schools, ID advocates argued that banning ID from science class is a violation of the First Amendment - unconstitutional limit on free speech. However, national science organizations and university faculty groups disputed that claim to mute free speech by pointing out subjects like religion, alchemy and astrology have always been included in the school curricula as non-science courses.
In a recent poll by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 64 percent of Americans believed that teaching ID along side evolution is a simple matter of fairness. The bottom line of the legal issue is not about the First Amendment whether one has the freedom to express one's religious beliefs but rather one's religious beliefs should be imposed as science. Religion has no place in science class. And the voters in Pennsylvania in the November election understood that well to have ousted all the education board members who supported ID in the science curriculum.
(First published on UniOrb.com, December 1, 2005)