Throughout history, humanity has been seduced by things we want but can never have. Few are more tempting than the search for “scientific” evidence of God.
Long before science was discovered, wise theologians knew that the existence of God must be taken on faith. Today, many religious thinkers counsel that science can reveal the glory of God, but can never prove or disprove his existence. This advice, sadly, is still not heeded in Colorado Springs.
The latest in a long, anguished line of attempts to connect science with God is “Intelligent Design” theory. That it can be proposed as a “scientific” theory worthy of serious consideration is testimony to how ingrained such attempts must be in human consciousness. In 4,000 years of monotheism, have we learned nothing?
ID theory says that some systems in the world are “irreducibly complex”. Such systems require forethought and intelligent design. No one would look at a mousetrap and assume it had been assembled through naturalistic processes, because without any one of its parts it loses its purpose. Mousetraps must have designers.
The logic, so ID theory says, is the same in biology. When we see a system in nature that is irreducibly complex, we must infer an intelligent designer.
There’s just one problem. There is no evidence that nature contains irreducibly complex systems. None.
What nature shows us are systems that appear to be irreducibly complex, but that’s all. Take away some of their parts, and you still have something that serves an evolutionary purpose. Eyes, bacterial “tails”, and many other supposedly “essentially complex” systems are now known to have simpler versions with other evolutionary functions. While fairly new, all this is common biological knowledge, available to anyone who bothers to look.
The reason this area is still controversial is because we can’t say how every complex system in nature evolved. At least not yet. ID theorists will probably always be able to point to something with that we don’t currently understand and say “Look there! That must have been designed.”
But that’s argument from ignorance. Out on the cutting edge of science, there will always be things that fill us with wonder and awe. A hundred years ago, no one could explain the amount of heat coming from the sun. That is, until the discovery of helium in the sun’s core.
Creationists said it was impossible to imagine a way to evolve from a reptilian inner ear to a mammalian one. That is, until paleontologists found transitional fossils that showed exactly how such evolution occurred. Where would we be if our first reaction to the unknown was to invoke the supernatural? Still huddling in our caves and dying from pneumonia.
That’s what’s really wrong about ID theory: it stops us from asking questions just as they get interesting. How did natural selection come to be? How did simple rules generate the complexity of life we find today? What are the fundamental connections between the laws of physics, which we understand fairly well, and the laws of complex living systems, which we don’t?
ID tells us that such questions are not worth asking. Complex living systems were designed by supernatural forces beyond our comprehension: Our curiosity can take us this far, and no further. I say: hogwash. Supernatural explanations should be our last resort. Not our first.
ID theory is simply creationism responding to the power of science in today’s world, combined with the ancient drive to prove God’s existence scientifically. As if such a thing mattered. To the extent that Intelligent Design is correct, it is not science. To the extent that it is science, it is not correct. Either way, it does not belong in science class.
In fact, it really doesn’t belong anywhere. We need, once and for all, to give up our tortured attempts to take science where it cannot go. It is time for humanity, once and for all, to move on.