(Warning relating to this post. Chowbay's Food and Article Center advises to maintain proper etiquette while attending dinner parties: one should, "try to avoid heavy subjects such as politics and religion.".  I'm going to stay out of the politics (as much as is possible) but will touch on religion and science. So please forgive my manners... ;-)

This week George W. Bush spoke on the subject 'Intelligent Design' and his personal view as to whether it should be taught at science classes, alongside evolution.  According to the Washington Post:

"President Bush invigorated proponents of teaching alternatives to evolution in public schools with remarks saying that schoolchildren should be taught about "intelligent design," a view of creation that challenges established scientific thinking and promotes the idea that an unseen force is behind the development of humanity.

Although he said that curriculum decisions should be made by school districts rather than the federal government, Bush told Texas newspaper reporters in a group interview at the White House on Monday that he believes that intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution as competing theories."

The Constitution guarantees the religious freedom of all Americans by protecting the individual right to worship and ensuring separation between church and state. Courts repeatedly have held that the public school classroom must be religiously neutral and that schools must not advocate religious views. In 1987 the Supreme Court ruled that teaching creationism in the public schools is unconstitutional.

So creationism is out.  And a new meme is being pushed.  Intelligent Design.

What is 'Intelligent Design'?

I hadn't heard of this newly evolved term, 'Intelligent Design' before yesterday, so I searched around to find a little about 'Intelligent Design'. According to this Washington Post article, Phillip Johnson, a fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Culture and Science, has lead an Intelligent Design movement where at at least 19 states are now considering challenges to the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution.

So what is Intelligent Design?  And who is the Intelligent Designer?  Well, given the Supreme Court's decision, it cannot be God because that would amount to creationism.  And since teaching creationism at public schools in the US is unconstitutional, the creationists need a new brand of creationism, one without a god explicitly mentioned as a cause.

In my research I came across the following definition in a paper 'Intelligent Design, A Scientific Alternative to Evolution' [PDF] by William S. Harris and John H. Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network published in the Autumn 2003 edition of The National Catholic Weekly.

"The theory of intelligent design has been described by ID theorist Professor William Dembski of Baylor University as follows:

Intelligent design begins with the observation that intelligent causes can do things that undirected natural causes cannot. Undirected natural causes can"

Another definition is provided by Dr Samuel Blumenfeld, in yesterday's article 'Evolution vs Intelligent Design' at the World Daily, also quoting William A. Dembski's book. "Intelligent Design":

"The first false idea in the theory [of evolution] is that non-organic matter can transform itself into organic matter. Pasteur proved that this was impossible. Second, the enormous complexity of organic matter precludes accidental creation. There had to be a designer. There is now a whole scientific school devoted to the Design Theory. William A. Dembski's book, "Intelligent Design," published in 1999, is the pioneering work that bridges science with theology. Dembski writes:

Intelligent design is three things: a scientific research program that investigates the effects of intelligent causes; an intellectual movement that challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy; and a way of understanding divine action ...

It was Darwin's expulsion of design from biology that made possible the triumph of naturalism in Western culture. So, too, it will be intelligent design's restatement of design within biology that will be the undoing of naturalism in Western culture."

Blumenfeld concludes his article by underscoring the divine nature of the theory and the inability of 'evolutionists' to accept the Intelligent Design theory due to their rejection of a god:

"But since intelligent design infers the existence of a designer – God – it is likely that evolutionists will resist any change in their views, since the acknowledgment of the existence of God is too nightmarish for them to contemplate."

Here Blumenfeld states God is the designer through inference, probably at the dismay of the hardcore Intelligent Design supporters - as it would be unconstitutional to have this version of Intelligent Design be taught at public schools.  (By the way, his last statement really seems out of sync with reality regardless of who might be right or wrong about whether there is an 'intelligent designer' or not.  The fact is that there are many evolutionary scientists who are religious and believe in the existence of a god.  In general, religious scientists assume that God created the universe and its physical laws, and that the evolutionary process is a by-product of these laws.  In fact, evolution says nothing about how the physical laws came to be.)

According to William S. Harris and John H. Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network, you cannot be believer in 'god as a creator' and believe in evolution.  The following is a quote from the same by Harris and Calvert article [PDF]:

“Where do we come from? Theism holds that humanity was designed for a purpose, while science claims that design and the purposes it serves are an illusion. A recent example of the depth of the confusion is a resolution adopted by the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) in which “evolution” is held to be consistent with a “God as Creator.” The problem is that evolution is not defined in the resolution. If by evolution, the PCUSA means “change over time,” then the statement may be accurate, but if evolution means “unguided, blind, unintended change,” then the statement is logically inconsistent.”

The central disagreement Intelligent Design theory has with the theory of evolutionary process (unguided, blind, unintended change) appears to be that 'evolution' cannot explain the complexity of life we observe nor the presence of conscious, intelligent and thinking beings.

The 'design detection fiter'

According to Harris and Calevert, in his book 'The Design Inference', William Dembksi introduces a 'methodology', that proposes there can only be three explanatory causes for any event, 'chance, 'necessity' (natural law), and 'design', and that by applying what he calls a 'design detection filter', which involves asking 3 questions about an event you can determine its cause.  In the Harris and Calvert article [PDF], they apply the 'design detection filter' to the DNA molecule. They conclude a) that the DNA sequence contain information has purpose, that b) DNA sequences are not determined by physical laws and that c) DNA in a single cell cannot have been assembled by chance, and therefore 'designed':

"We are driven by the data and the facts to the most logical conclusion: the message carried by the DNA in the first functional cell has all the hallmarks of having been derived from an intelligent source."

I'm not going into their rationalization behind each of their answers, but I will take a quick look the 'data' it uses relating to their answer to the third question 'What is the probability that DNA assembled by chance in the first cell?' (the paper doesn't actually describe what it means by 'the first cell'):

"It is postulated that the first cell would need at least three hundred genes to become a functioning organism capable of replication. The statistical probability of assembling a single gene coding for one hundred amino acids by chance alone to be something in the order of 1x10-190 has been calculated. So our answer is No, the likelihood that a functional DNA chain appeared by chance is essentially zero."

Indeed, the answer 'no' to this question of chance may be accurate if the underlying assumption the answer is based upon is accurate - that all the 100 amino acids were required to encode each of the three hundred genes came together spontaneously, in the right order and at the same moment in order to create the first cell. I agree, that this would not just be improbable, but a spectacular miracle by any measure.  But this assumption and the conclusion this answer arrives at ignores all current theory relating to the processes involved prior to the 'first cell's' creation (whatever Harris and Calvert mean by 'first cell').  This is like saying that the the probability of the sun's diameter being 12,740km happened by chance is zero and therefore must have been intelligently designed (I'd love to go further into this argument but I have a weekend to enjoy!).

So who is the 'Intelligent Designer'?

I caught part of an interview on TV yesterday (I later found the transcript at PBS.org), where Jeffrey Brown asks Michael Behe, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC) if God is the Intelligent Designer:

"JEFFREY BROWN: Okay. Professor Behe, is this a way to bring God into the classroom and, I guess the direct question is: Is the designer, the intelligent designer, is that god?

MICHAEL BEHE: Well, first of all, to answer your first question, no, this is not an attempt to bring God into the classroom. This is an attempt to account for the data that science has accumulated in the past five decades. Nobody expected the cell to be this complex. Nobody expected molecular machinery to under-gird life. No Darwinian theory predicted this. No Darwinian theory presently accounts for it. We are just trying to explain how such astonishing machinery and complexity has come to be."

The question Brown poses is of course the first question one might ask upon first hearing of Intelligent Design.  Is God the Intelligent Designer?  Beher answers 'no'.  What I don't understand is why other proponents of this theory - fellows of the CSC - occasionally answer with an emphatic 'yes'.  Ed Brayton has compiled a number of quotes from William Dembski, Nancy Pearcy and Phllip Johnson that seem to betray the the identity of the Intelligent Designer...maybe they just can't help themselves?:

"Intelligent design readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory." William Dembski, (Touchstone Magazine, July/August 1999)

"If the broader impact of Darwinism was to remove Christianity from the sphere of objective truth, then the broader significance of the Intelligent Design movement will be to bring it back. By providing evidence of God's work in nature, it restores Christianity to the status of a genuine knowledge claim, giving us the means to reclaim a place at the table of public debate. Christians will then be in a position to challenge the fact/value dichotomy that has marginalized religion and morality by reducing them to irrational, subjective experience." Nancy Pearcy, (Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, 2004)

The following is quote from Phillip Johnson, the leader of the Intelligent Design movement, couldn't be any clearer:

"Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools."  Philip Johnson, American Family Radio, January 10, 2003)

As I see it, the 'Intelligent Design' theory should not be taught at the science classroom.  The Supreme Court is clear on this matter.  If it is to be taught at all in public schools, it should be taught in the classes relating to the study of religion and theology.


Update, 7 August: I found a blog, Evolution News run by the Discovery Institute (even mentions Technorati!)...no comments allowed though..:: Seth Godin has something to say on the subject...As does Casual Fridays...

Also worth checking out this NPR show, a debate on the issue of Intelligent Design. Skeptico (one of my favourite blogs) has written quite a bit on the subject

National Center for Science Education view of Intelligent Design shares its view.  Tom Vanderbilt of the Design Observer has an interesting perspective on this issue.

Update: August 10: Skeptico: "Intelligent Design disingenuously misrepresented"

Update: August 19: Seems the Evolution News blog, the pro ID blog run by the Discovery Institue, have deleted the trackbacks from my post to theirs.  Given their 'We want freee speech' mantra, this seems at odds with what they are trying to achieve: a conversation.  BTW, they seems to be getting lots of traffic - I received about a 3,000 referring hits to this post from their trackbacks in about a week.