Monday, October 10, 2005

An Intelligent Use for Intelligent Design

Now that teaching “Intelligent Design” in the schools has become a court case, I hope people will consider a constructive use for it, though its proponents will probably not like my suggestion: Using it to teach the difference between Faith and Science.

Intelligent Design is a ploy, to dress up Creationism – the idea that all life was created by divine intervention, an article of faith – in the trappings of scientific theory and discussion, and assert it is a scientific theory with standing equivalent to the theory of evolution. But it is not science, it is faith, and it has no such standing. The masquerade, though, is an excellent opportunity to use it as a teaching tool: Here, dear students, is something made to look like science, but it is not science, and here is why.

It is not science because the idea that life was created by an Intelligent Being is so far an untestable hypothesis: You can neither prove it true nor prove it false. The fact that you may not yet have come up with an explanation of how some complex life forms could evolve naturally may or may not pose a challenge to the theory of evolution, but it does not prove anything at all about the hypothesis of an Intelligent Designer. Since the latter assertion is untestable, it is not science. If you insist on believing it anyway, for you, it is an article of faith.

Now, faith is often a very good thing, depending on what that faith is; I have seen cases where it has changed lives, and for the better, and it makes many people happier, and gives them a way to deal with questions science has been unable to deal with. And science has certainly proved its worth too. There need not be a conflict between Faith and Science, unless you make one, either by believing something manifestly untrue or by insisting that if it can’t be proved true scientifically it must therefore be false. You can believe anything you want, and believing it may be a good thing, but unless and until you prove it, one way or the other, it is just not science. Also, to think that attacking a theory will constitute proof of an opposing faith-based hypothesis is as fallacious as it is to say anything that isn’t proved must be false.

The two ways of relating to Reality, Faith and Science, can coexist side by side, and should. But it’s important to be clear about the key distinction between them, especially since lots of people on both sides don’t seem to understand that distinction, and because factions exploiting this confusion are likely to rise again and again.

In fact, so many people seem unclear about it that it ought to be taught in the schools.


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4:53 PM  
Blogger CitriClean said...

Well said Harold. It does make sense to keep only science in science courses. In practice, however, it's not that easy. I think we must all admit that it takes some faith to believe in evolution (inter-species) as the full and true explanation for our origins. The fossil records are not good enough to tell us the truth. So, like intelligent design, evolution is also non-falsifiable.

10:26 AM  

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