Wednesday 27 October 2010

The Intelligent Design v Evolution debate isn't going away

Both ID and evolutionary theory attempt to explain how life came to be as it is today. Each side appears to be driven by its own motives, but those motives are largely irrelevant to the scientific debate.

On the one hand we have evolutionary theory, which says that random mutation plus natural selection produces gradual change in populations of living organisms such that subsequent generations become progressively more suited to prevailing conditions, and these small changes accumulate to the big changes we see over geological time. Though the theory seems sound (and immensely elegant), I understand there are some stages in the process that science has yet to explain adequately.

Michael Behe
And on the other hand we have intelligent design theory, which says that unexplained stages in evolution can be explained by positing an intelligent designer. To me this is no more than an "intelligent-designer-of-the-gaps". My main objection to the ID argument is that it isn't an explanation. Hypothesizing an intelligent designer isn't testable by science, so ID can't legitimately be described as science. If I suggest that the gaps in evolutionary theory can be explained as the intervention of magic pixies I don't expect anyone to accept this as a scientific explanation — but as explanations go, it has as much science in it as ID.

Justin Brierley
Despite this, however, there are some scientists who claim that ID is science. One such is Professor Michael Behe of Lehigh University, and he will be touring the UK next month, giving illustrated lectures. One of these, at 7 pm in Westminster Chapel in London, on November 22nd, will be hosted by Justin Brierley of Premier Christian Radio's Unbelievable? programme. All are invited, at a ticket price of £10 (which includes a DVD), but bookings must be made in advance.

Behe's tour is in conjunction with the newly announced Centre for Intelligent Design based in Scotland (where apparently school curricula have no prohibition on teaching ID or creationism in school science lessons).

Paul Sims
Paul Sims at the New Humanist blog suggests that journalists should ignore Behe's lectures, starving him and the C4ID of the oxygen of publicity. This is tempting but in my opinion misguided. Anyone who cares about science education in the UK should be prepared to challenge those who aim to corrupt it. Intelligent design as a concept may be a fit subject for a philosophy class, but it has no place in science teaching.

UPDATE 2010-10-30:
Some useful resources related to ID:

Fake ID:

British Centre for Science Education

(Image positions also tweaked.)