December 13, 2006
“Creationism in disguise”
“We’re seeking to have intelligent design and criticisms of Darwinism taught in science lessons.” That was Dr Richard Buggs, of the campaign group Truth in Science, putting the case for teaching intelligent design in British schools on the Guardian science podcast this week. Proponents of ID claim that it is a viable scientific alter-
native to Darwinism. As such, they say, it deserves a place along-
side Darwin in science lessons.
… By framing the debate in this way, the creationists - and, yes, they are creationists - have pulled off an impressive rhetorical coup. They have cast the scientists as dogmatic, reactionary and even fundamentalist aggressors who would deny school pupils the chance to hear all sides of the debate.
In reality, ID is not a new idea at all, but one that goes back to Descartes and beyond. The Christian philosopher William Paley, in 1802, asked his readers to imagine finding a watch while walking on a heath. The intricate timepiece is so complex that we immediately assume a designer must have built it. The natural world is infinitely more complex than a mere pocket watch, so we should infer the hand of a designer here as well.
The ID movement has spun Paley’s argument into more 21st-century terms - less pocket watch and more fancy molecular biology. How, they ask, can the intricate microscopic machines that propel bacteria have come about by chance? Such complexity must have originated with a designer.
It is true that complex things in nature look as if they have been designed. Darwin knew this. But the sublime truth about his theory is that it explains how complex things can come about without design. And natural selection works just as well for molecular machines as it does for eyes, flippers and wings. ID, by comparison, explains nothing. It is an intellectual dead end marked: “The designer did it.” Why bother trying to understand the natural world when there is the cosy God-explanation in all-too-easy reach?
… Show the creationists how the bacterial tail evolved and they will shift their argument to another complex structure which supposedly shows the hand of the creator. There is no evidence that could in principle disprove ID, so by definition it is not science.
ID was itself designed as a Trojan horse for creationism, with its origins in the Discovery Institute, a thinktank in Seattle whose stated aim is “to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God”.
… Let’s be honest: despite its scientific-sounding frills and baubles, ID is pure religion. It is a reincarnation of an old idea that Darwin dispensed with and it has no place in a science class.
Although you have to ask why the Guardian agreed to let Buggs participate in a science podcast in the first place.
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