Friday, May 11, 2007

Q&A: intelligent design

The theories behind intelligent design

Anna Seward
Monday November 27, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

What is intelligent design?
Intelligent design is a movement that says that life is so complex that it must have been designed by a higher intelligent being, and not via the Darwinian theory of natural selection - widely accepted by scientists. Followers argue that the scientific community is not as convinced by evolution as we are led to believe, and urge that we are more critical in our consideration of evolution.

Surely intelligent design is another name for creationism?
Intelligent design does share a number of similarities with creationism, and the phrase appears in several examples of creationist literature. They both argue that evolution is unable to account for the vast array of species, and both promote the concept of a designer.

But there are fundamental differences. First, intelligent design accepts that the earth is millions of years old, not adhering to the creationist, biblically derived argument that the earth was created some 6,000 years ago.

Second, intelligent design accepts that species do undergo small amounts of change, whereas creationists believe that all forms of life were created in their current form at the time of the earth's creation. However intelligent design claims that these changes are the result of a guiding hand, not the result of random genetic mutations and natural selection.

Intelligent design also differs from creationism by not specifically naming the creator as God. Proponents use this as justification that their argument is not religious. However despite avoiding making a public association, almost all statements directed at supporters of intelligent design declare openly that the designer is believed to be God.

What evidence is there to support intelligent design?
A number of academics support the intelligent design argument, maintaining that it is soundly supported by scientific disciplines. They argue that intelligent design provides empirical proof for the existence of a super-intelligent being, and that this proof is freely detectable in nature itself.

However it is very difficult to find definitive evidence in support of the concept, since it has no theoretical background, and the movement is fuelled more by belief than by experimentally derived proof.

What are the arguments against intelligent design?
Critics argue that intelligent design cannot be classed as science. It cannot be tested, and is therefore merely a philosophical concept. It lacks the necessary theoretical basis from which hypotheses can be tested and is therefore unable to provide any basis for new directions of research. As a result, it has made no contribution to agriculture, forestry, pathology, or any of the other areas of biology that evolutionary theory has provided insight into.

Intelligent design is frequently accused of following a socio-political agenda rather than being interested in scientific issues. Critics argue that it is merely a poor attempt to disguise a creationist agenda, and to sneak religion into science lessons.

Intelligent design simply aims to fill in existing gaps in evolutionary theories, such as gaps in the fossil record, with speculative beliefs. As critics point out, just because our current understanding of evolution hasn't given us the answers to everything so far, that doesn't mean that we should turn to intelligent design instead.

Many of the arguments used to defend intelligent design are directly related to creationist arguments that have previously been refuted. Evolution theory, on the other hand, has repeatedly generated predictions that have proven to be true and that have never been disproved by other scientific theories. Rather than attempt to discredit the scientific evidence that contradicts their concept, followers of intelligent design simply choose to ignore it.

What does flying spaghetti have to do with any of this?
A recent development has been the growth of so-called Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, a satirical 'religion' created by Bobby Henderson, a physics graduate of Oregon State University. He wrote to the Kansas Board of Education in June 2005, alerting them to the many people who believe that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe, and demanding that science lessons be split three-ways: "One third time for intelligent design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence."

Henderson's point is that the concept of a Flying Spaghetti Monster is every bit as rational a concept as intelligent design. He has received sympathetic reponses from members of the board who also oppose intelligent design, as well as attracting overwhelming support from 'followers' all over the world.

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