Intelligent Design Makes a Mockery of Science

Intelligent design: Making a mockery of science

By Christian Piatt

(This column originally appeared in the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper)

I listened to a sermon series on intelligent design recently. The minister went through the many sophisticated organs, cells and systems within the human body, and after each example, he pulled out a coin. He went from cellular mitochondria to the visual cortex, pointing out each time how unlikely this system was to occur by accident. Each point was punctuated by another coin.

Many systems within the body are built upon preceding ones, and conditions had to be just right for us to become what we are, he pointed out. By the end, he had fifteen coins laid out on the lectern. The odds of flipping those fifteen coins and having them all land heads-up was about one in thirty-three thousand. How much more unlikely, then, are we to be here?

That depends. If you believe in infinite time and space, then you have to accept the concept of infinite probability. Given time and space without boundary, it’s reasonable to expect that everything that can happen ultimately will. This would include earth, humans, and other forms of intelligent life.

At this point, we can’t say how big or old the universe is, any more than we can claim whether or not this is the only universe there is.  For all we know, there are millions of other universes that existed before ours, or maybe they even exist in parallel to ours right now. If time has a beginning and an end, or that there are limits to the boundaries of the universe, our existence becomes less likely the product of random chance.

Asking ‘What are the odds?’ alone doesn’t really bother me, although I think it’s a weak argument for the existence of a Creator. But this same argument is the cornerstone of many proponents of teaching intelligent design in our schools, as an alternative to evolution.

There’s one big difference between evolution and intelligent design: the former is science and the latter isn’t. For an idea to be part of the scientific body of thought, you first have to develop a hypothesis and test it using scientifically recognized processes. If your findings support your initial hypothesis, you share your findings with the rest of the scientific community and allow them to try to replicate your results.

Over time, if your hypothesis continues to be supported, it becomes a theory. If evidence arises later that challenges the theory, it’s either changed or discarded. There’s no such thing as a scientific absolute. We only have theories waiting to be disproved.

Some may cry foul, claiming that intelligent design can’t be tested like this. After all, if we can’t prove the existence of God, how can we prove that any of the resultant byproducts are of God’s hands?

That’s why intelligent design isn’t science.

Although I believe personally that God created the universe, I don’t confuse my beliefs with the human-conceived scientific system. There are places in school for discussions such as these, including philosophy and comparative religion classes. I also think each family can impart their beliefs to their children, both at home and at church. But to cloud our understanding of what science is, promoting a religious agenda under the thin veil of scholarship, threatens to contaminate both science and faith.

Some scientists are guilty of making a religion of science. They confuse theory with fact and proclaim the human intellect as the prevailing standard by which all things must solely be measured.

Aristotle, the father of modern science, wisely recognized the limits of science and logic. Thomas Aquinas later claimed that this point where logic breaks down is where faith helps complete the picture.

The difference is that both Aristotle and Aquinas knew not to confuse faith and logic, and both understood the limits of each. The current creation-versus-evolution debate suggests that we haven’t evolved toward a greater truth in the meantime.

(Christian Piatt’s new book, “Lost: A Search for Meaning,” is available for pre-order at most online bookstores now.)

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