Friday, March 5, 2010

In pursuit of intelligent design

The Texas public school system is currently mired in debate over updating public school textbook standards. Among the issues is whether or not intelligent design should be discussed in science class along with evolution.

I don’t know that the question of intelligent design has even been pursued enough in scientific terms to warrant a chapter in a textbook. But it has always puzzled me why science has ignored the question. I’m not a scientist, but I’m a big fan of science; good science. Good science means you don’t rule out what you can’t rule out.

Let me be clear. By intelligent design, I don’t mean omnipotent being design. I mean that at least some of what we perceive as reality may have been instigated by a sentient being or beings. The problem with the religious pursuit of the possibility is that it starts with a conclusion and then seeks supporting evidence, ignoring anything contradictory. The problem with the scientific pursuit of the possibility is that it doesn’t exist.

I think its intriguing to speculate that the universe may be a program, designed and implemented by real beings. If there’s a code behind it, we may be abe to crack it. But to come at it from the right direction you have to consider it as something deliberate, not just random. The advantage of thinking in those terms is that you can approach a problem from the standpoint of the designer. Look at how some parts of the system work and extrapolate how others within the same operating system, authored by the same individual or group, might work. Then of course, you have to test your hypothesis. Another aspect of getting into this mindset is that you don’t just look at how a particular part of the system works, you ponder why. What purpose does it serve in the larger picture?

I think intelligent design could be a productive scientific pursuit if done right. First rule: no magic. Even computer code has parameters that can’t just be ignored. A reality that is much bigger than we may know is still reality. It may afford more possibilities, but it’s not magic. The main divergence from eliminating intelligent design is that you assume everything has some purpose. It may just be entertainment, but whatever it is, it’s not an accident. Second, if you come to a new conclusion, you’ve got to prove or disprove it. No jumping to conclusions. Just like any other field of science, you have to carefully design experiments to test your hypothesis and accept whatever data comes out of them. Third, you don’t get to use the old cop-out that “some things are just beyond our understanding.” It’s okay to not know what we don’t know, but that doesn’t make it unknowable.

There are several assumptions in the religious pursuit of intelligent design that have no place in a scientific pursuit. There’s no basis for the assumptions that an intelligent designer(s) is, or are superior, immortal, all-knowing or has (have) our best interest at heart. We know very little about the design itself at this point (if it is a design) never mind the nature or motivations of the author(s).

If proponents of intelligent design would like it to be a serious part of school curriculum and scientific pursuit, it must be an honest, objective and fearless pursuit. The truth is what the truth is. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it. That fact is just as true for "top scientists" as it is for the Pope and the Dali Lama.

2 comments:

Human Ape said...

I think its intriguing to speculate that the universe may be a program, designed and implemented by real beings.

That's not science. That's a fantasy, an extremely idiotic fantasy. Your fantasies don't belong in science education.

Captain Capitalist said...

The truth is what the truth is. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it

I'm not saying it's the truth. Just that it might be. And if one were to explore the possibility, it should be done in an objective manner, not as a religious pursuit.