October 07, 2005

Misconceptions About Intelligent Design (part 1)

(Part 1 in a 3 part series)

I've just read this interesting cursory discussion on the question of teaching Intelligent Design (ID) in public schools, and it brings to my mind several common misconceptions about this topic. Now, ID theory may or may not be good "science," but I think if we are going to debate it we should at least accurately understand it in its context. Here are my responses to some of the most frequent charges leveled against it.

"ID is just thinly veiled creationism"

It may be true that many ID supporters are Christian (though some are not even theists), but this theory is philosophically independent from the question of who the "designer" may happen to be. In theory, it may be Gaia (a sentient planet), the God of Mormonism, a space alien, or the Christian God. That remains an independent question, just as evolutionists would very much like to separate the issue of common descent from the issue of abiogenesis (where the first life-form came from).

While ID is certainly consistent with Christianity, it is not identical to it. Its arguments should be taken on their own merits. To reject an argument simply because you don't like who or where it came from is called the "genetic fallacy." Those who attack the champions of ID and not the tenants of the theory itself only bring suspicion upon themselves that they lack a legitimate defense.

"ID advocates want to teach biblical creationism in school"

While I cannot speak for all who would seek to introduce ID into their curriculum, I can say that, officially, the desires of ID proponents are rather modest. At most, they want to "teach the controversy." That is, they want to permit the teaching of evolution, but allow the teachers to explore not only the supporting evidence but also the gaps in that evidence. To quote the Discovery Institute, the flagship organization for the ID movement:
Should public schools require the teaching of intelligent design?

No. Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute recommends that states and school districts focus on teaching students more about evolutionary theory, including telling them about some of the theory's problems that have been discussed in peer-reviewed science journals. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned. We believe this is a common-sense approach that will benefit students, teachers, and parents.
The ID discussion intends to stay within the boundaries of the question of origins as it seeks to be answered by naturalistic science, e.g., if evolution is a feasible mechanism. Going beyond this to offer some form of behind the scenes insight as to how and why the "designer" designed is agreed to be beyond to scope of public education. For this reason, the question remains open as to whether this "designer" was the God of the Bible or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (although science and historical investigation may, in fact, offer further insights into the possible nature of this designer).

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