Keeping faith out of science the intelligent way

Intelligent design proponents – keep your faith out of my science.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, intelligent design is creationism gussied up with pseudo-science. Intelligent design proponents claim life on Earth is too complex to not be the result of some unnamed “intelligent designer.” Of course, since this so-called “theory” is preached almost exclusively by Christians, the nature of this designer is not difficult to divine.

Intelligent design is dangerous. Not because of its involvement of a god, but because it confuses people as to the very nature of science.

In the most simplistic of terms, for an idea to be considered scientific it must be able to withstand the scrutiny of the scientific method. To paraphrase your ninth-grade biology teacher, this means it must be able to pass repeatable tests in which the idea might fail.

For example, if you have a hypothesis that you can pass chemistry without studying, it can be easily tested by not studying. If you never study, yet pass the class anyway, then your hypothesis is correct; if you fail then your hypothesis is wrong, in which case you get a second opportunity to test it next semester.

This is where intelligent design fails to meet scientific muster. Proponents say a powerful, unseen deity is guiding the evolutionary process. I have no problem with this as a belief, but it could not be any further from science. There is no way to test for the presence of an unseen deity in which the test could fail.

One of the battle cries of the intelligent design contingent is there are questions that Darwinian evolution can’t answer. They are right – it doesn’t answer every question. Real science is often messy like that. This is the advantage of faith; “God did it” makes for some easy answers to some difficult questions.

Another hallmark of intelligent design’s argument is that Darwinian evolution is ‘simply a theory.’ This is an argument based on both their ignorance and preying on the public’s. Theory, in scientific terms, does not mean guess or hunch. To a scientist, a theory is an idea that has stood up to testing so well and for so long that testing now focuses on refining the questioned theory more than its veracity.

Those who believe in intelligent design do not seem to have problems with other theories, but if they did, their faulty reasoning could be used to discredit many important scientific principals.

Take, for example, gravity. I have yet to come across anyone to claim gravity does not exist, yet gravity ‘is only a theory.’ Furthermore, science does not have all the answers about gravity. Most notably, how exactly gravity works is still unknown, but unless you are a cartoon character running off a cliff, gravity is still in force.

On its Web site, Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity – a pro-intelligent design group that sponsored a discussion on the subject Friday at the Sun Dome – claims, “Academia has suppressed freedom of speech” when the subject is evolution. The freedoms of intelligent design proponents are not being suppressed any more than those of any group that presents a non-scientific idea.

Last year, physicist Bobby Henderson proposed to the Kansas Board of Education that his belief about life on Earth -that it was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster – be taught alongside intelligent design. At the time, the board was considering allowing intelligent design to be taught as an alternative to evolution in science classes. Despite Henderson’s efforts to point out the obvious flaws of such a decision, the Washington Post reported last November that the board voted to change their definition of science by removing the phrase ‘a search for natural explanations for observable phenomena.’

According to the Web site of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the monster “created all that we see and all that we feel,” and is backed up by “10 million believers” and data to support the stance. Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, in the eyes of science (as commonly defined), is equal in worth to intelligent design’s creationism.

The danger in taking intelligent design as science is the damage it could cause to science education in America. The country already lags behind too many industrialized nations in this area; confusing people as to what science is will only make the situation worse.

Intelligent design proponents claim they just want people to hear both sides. The problem is their faith is not compatible with science – it would be like a baseball team and a basketball team playing each other, but each side playing their respective sport.

Do not be fooled – intelligent design is creationism. It has a place in colleges and high schools, but that place is in humanities, literature or religious studies classes – not science.

Josh Corban is a senior majoring in anthropology.