I’ve been hesitant to weigh in on the intelligent design debate because so much is already written, and I’m still forming an opinion. The body of work is computational and possibly, in part, an exact and quantitative science of objects in so far as the researchers study patterns (quantities) in nature (objects) to infer design. The debate, however, is about whether the inference is justified from probability calculations because the inference has implications outside the bounds of science.
My first concern, as for others, is how intelligent design affects educating children. The oft-repeated definition given by the Discovery Institute seems problematic. “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. ” Teaching children that scientists distinguish “certain features” as having an “intelligent cause” implies that other features do not. For Christian children, this wording muddles the cosmic view taught in the Creed.
I can hear my own mini-interlocutors asking about God’s on-off smart-switch, “Mom, how come worms are intelligently designed but water is not?” The answer is not trivial.
“God knows everything. He created everything. It’s just that researchers have done computational work to highlight what they call ‘signs of design’ in complex systems. That doesn’t mean other things do not have an intelligent cause, just that the researchers can’t determine intelligent cause in those things using their computations.”
Should the kids ask how the researchers know their computations, and theirs alone, are right, such questioning would land the kids smack in the company of most academics weighing in on the issue. Design theory, as far as I can tell, comes down to our human interpretation of design, which will always be a matter of human perspective.
Design theorists, of course, have explained how their theory differs from the theological doctrine of creation, but the explanation is heavily theological and nuanced.* A parent or teacher would have to explain that if humans fail to see design, it’s due to our lack of knowledge not God’s lack of intelligence. How does that provide clarity? Besides, I’ve grappled with inorganic surface chemistry at the angstrom scale, and you bet your boots I saw design. I didn’t “see” it with probability theory the way design theorists do, but the presence of design struck me as apparent even when I wasn’t religious. Likewise, I am certain kids can “see” design without aid from sophisticated theorems beyond the scope of elementary or secondary education.
I argue that the focus for science education simply needs to be on exact physical science, on imparting solid fundamentals. Even for biology, teach the facts and leave metaphysical theories—goodbye Darwinism—out of science lessons completely. Oh yes, that’s a loaded statement, but insisting on limits goes both ways. Kids who pray will see design in science because meaning and purpose pervade their education. Kids who don’t pray? If they are taught scientific fundamentals, maybe they will discover design for themselves.
*For instance, see William A. Dembski, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004), all 324 well-written and illuminating pages.