Intelligent Design is an explanation not an apologetic - a response to Ekklesia
It is hard to know where to begin a response to the misunderstanding and misrepresentation in Bob Carling’s piece on Intelligent Design (ID) on the Ekklesia website (Feature, December 6th, 2010 - But let me try by starting with this. Intelligent Design is not a religious apologetic but a scientific explanation of the observed data.  It offers an explanation for the apparent design in nature.  And the explanation offered is really quite simple – the design is real, not imagined.  Intelligent Design is essentially an exercise in the science of design detection, such as you might find in other areas like forensic chemistry or the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.  And its conclusion is that there is convincing evidence in nature of intelligent causation.

Evidence for Intelligent Design

If Bob Carling has read the works of the ID theorists such as Bill Dembski, Mike Behe and Stephen Meyer, he will know that the arguments for ID range over areas such as mathematical probability bounds, biological complexity and genetic information.  To claim, as Bob Carling reports in one of his footnotes, that ‘ID has not a single argument of its own’ is just perverse.  The arguments from the observed data are overwhelming.  They may be disputed, but they are there and they are real.

Intelligent design begins with the empirical data and takes an inductive approach – how are the origin, development and operation of natural and living systems best explained?  The conclusion that they are designed and meant to be as they are is a much more convincing explanation of the data than the alternative proposition that they self-assembled randomly and developed without direction.

The argument which Dr Stephen Meyer develops in his recent book ‘Signature in the Cell’ (HarperOne, 2009) is based on the thoroughly scientific principle of making an inference to the best explanation – a method Darwin himself employed in developing his theory of evolution.  But what Darwin didn’t know was the huge complexity of the living cell and its vast banks of specified functional information.

The information in living systems is real and raises, to an enquiring scientific mind, the question of its origin.  To make a valid inference about this we need to offer an explanation which is known to apply elsewhere and to operate in the way we propose. Well it’s not hard to see what it is.  The only known source of specified functional information is intelligent mind and to infer that the information in living systems has a similar source is entirely consistent with scientific deductions.  To propose the alternative that this all somehow self-assembled, which curiously almost everybody accepts without question, is contrary to all human experience and reason.  It is about as unscientific as you can be.

Facts and Implications

So what is important in this debate is to get the science straight before you begin to draw philosophical or theological conclusions.  In this area Bob Carling is hopelessly confused and has the argument the wrong way round.  It is certainly the case that if ID is correct it gives support to theistic belief.  But in no way does it depend on it.  And because of that ID is not offered as a religious apologetic.

I would urge Bob Carling to try and understand the terms of the debate and stop confusing the issue with inaccurate claims about creationism, science lessons and ‘God of the gaps’.  ID theorists are not dealing with gaps – the biological complexity is real, the information content of living things is massive and the ID explanation is consistent with all human experience and reason.

Contrary to popular understanding, ID deals with what we do know, not with what we don’t know.  The only gap fillers I see are ‘evolution of the gaps’ or the ‘science of the gaps’ which are regularly applied, with billions of years adduced as the great enabler.  This Darwinian approach really amounts to, ‘we don’t have an explanation, but give us time and we’ll find an evolutionary one because it must be the correct one’.

Scientific Method and Philosophical Assumptions

I think what is really unacceptable to the establishment about ID is that it departs from the philosophy of materialism which now dominates the pursuit of science.  This philosophy says, essentially, that only physical or material processes can be considered as valid explanations.  Any other explanation, such as an intelligent cause of the universe, must be ruled out before you begin to assess the evidence.  ID, on the other hand, prefers to go where the evidence leads.

If, in the matter of origins, science wishes to cripple itself with a commitment to rule out, by definition, any non-material explanation for the universe such as intelligent causation, it might be better to do the honourable thing and leave the field because its tools are clearly inadequate to the task of assessing the actual evidence.  But there is no need for science to do that if it is prepared to go where the evidence leads.

A New Way of Thinking?

Ekklesia promotes itself as an organisation that is about ‘A new way of thinking’.  Well, in one sense, that’s what ID is – a fresh way of looking at the natural world.  It is an approach that is attuned to the information technology of the 21st century, and not just the natural history of the 19th.  Just as physics moved from Newtonian laws to quantum mechanics, so biology needs to embrace what is now known about the genetic software which runs all living processes.  In another sense, of course, ID is not new at all and is the view of the universe which gave rise to the scientific revolution in the first place.

On the religious point, I note Bob Carling recognises that theodicy (why is there suffering in the world?) is a major challenge.  My question is, how does the view that God started it all and then effectively lost control of the natural laws, allowing them to produce all sorts of unpleasant consequences, offer a credible apologetic?  And one more question.  Are Christians not supposed to find design in nature?  I would have thought the evidence for design in nature would be the heartland of a think tank like Ekklesia.

Debate the Controversy

So are we up for dialogue?  Of course we are.  That’s why the Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) is here.  If ID is soon to be debunked, as Bob Carling suggests, let’s have some credible scientific arguments and not the tired reiteration of neo-Darwinian speculation.

And just for the record, Prof Michael Behe was not on a tour of churches and schools.  He gave a series of public lectures, sponsored by the Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID), across the UK to approximately 3,000 adults.  The venues chosen included university lecture theatres, church buildings and school premises, simply because these were the easiest to hire or had the capacities required.  As a matter of fact, Behe also ate in some pubs, but he was definitely not on a pub crawl!

Alastair Noble
Centre for Intelligent Design
15th December, 2010