Intelligent Design: Where’s the Stink?

I'm told that this was published on the Opinions page of the Santa Fe New Mexican, Sunday, October 16, 2005, (letter written by Joe Renick):

The controversy over intelligent design (ID) and its place in public school science education is based largely on misrepresentations and distortions designed to protect an entrenched "evolution-only" policy. This strategy keeps ID out of the science classroom by portraying it as religion, not science. However, a closer look reveals that ID is solidly rooted in scientific evidence, not religious belief.

Consider two radically different models of scientific theory…one starting with religious belief, the other starting with scientific observation. Here, "religious" includes secular religions like naturalism as well as theistic religions.

The belief-based model starts with a religious belief, builds a theory around that belief, and then seeks evidence in its support. The evidence is tested against the theory (in reality, the evidence is tested against the belief behind the theory), retained if it supports the theory, or discarded if it challenges the theory. A theory rooted in belief rather than evidence will unavoidably take on a religious "stink".

In the other case we start with observational data, analyze the primitive features of that data, and build a theory around the emergent properties. In this model, the theory is tested against the evidence. This is the way science is supposed to work. No "stink" here.

By "primitive features" we mean those features that appear when we set aside all known biases and consciously refuse to pre-judge the data. By "emergent properties' we mean letting the evidence speak for itself and "listening" to what it has to say.

This pathway from raw data to emergent properties is well known to seasoned research scientists. Hubble experienced it in the data that "told" him the universe was expanding. Crick and Watson experienced it as they deciphered the structure of DNA. The history of science is filled with such examples.

Now, which of these models best describes ID…the one starting with belief or the one starting with observation?

For over 2000 years the order and regularities observed in the natural world and the wonderful "fitness" of living creatures within their environments have been regarded as evidence of an underlying plan…the work of an intelligent agency. However, during the last half of the 20th century the biological sciences made spectacular scientific discoveries revealing that design-like features are also embedded deep within the fundamental machinery of life.

When scientists look at the biological cell they see far more going on than can be explained by physics and chemistry alone. They see a code, information, and machines. They see higher order activities such as regulation, integration, feedback and control…activities normally associated with the field of Systems Engineering, the study of complex systems designed by human engineers.

The biological cell looks like it was designed in precisely the same sense that the Space Shuttle was designed. "Design" is the emergent property. It is called "intelligent" design to distinguish it from "naturalistic" design, the theory that naturalistic Darwinian processes performed the design work.

Finally, we cannot ignore the obvious fact that ID has religious implications. Does that put religious "stink" on ID, making it religion and not science? No. To the contrary, it puts a scientific "stink" on the religious implication of a designer behind nature.

"Intelligent design" is the hypothesis that the appearance of design in biology is "real" design, the work of an intelligent agency. Where’s the "stink" in that?

Joe Renick is executive director of the New Mexico Intelligent Design Network, a not-for-profit organization that promotes integrity in science education in New Mexico’s public schools. The organization is composed of practicing scientists, science teachers, an attorney, former school-board members and other interested citizens.


John Rush said…
A well-written article. I have long maintained that, for most people, devotion to Darwinism stems from religious zeal rather than from observation. But nobody on the other side will admit that. They just accuse those who believe in a Designer of being zealots--and do not see the irony of their position.


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