Tonight, PBS will air a documentary about a Pennsylvania court case dealing with the teaching of intelligent design in the schools. And, as a Variety review reminds us, "the insidious campaign to discredit science and elevate religion as a legitimate academic alternative shouldn't escape notice."
I can't speak to the court case, but I would like to comment on this paragraph from the review:
Through the expert testimony as well as interviews with the actual scientists, the production drives home that whatever one's religious beliefs, incorporating an untestable theory based on faith into school curriculum bastardizes the long-held definition of science as something that can be challenged, examined and proven.
For the life of me, I can't figure out why the position of intelligent design is so difficult to understand. The claim is that there are certain observable effects that only result from an intelligent source. For example, the specific, complex, meaningful information we find in DNA is spelled out by the four "letters" (chemical bases), A, G, C, and T. The letters are arranged to communicate a blueprint that directs the development of the cell. There is no physical, natural property inherent in the chemical bases that determine their arrangement into a meaningful pattern any more than the properties of ink and paper cause letters to naturally organize themselves into recognizable words on a page. Letters arranged in a complex (not simple, like AGAGAG, which nature often produces), meaningful (not random) pattern suggest an intelligent communicator in the same way that the message "help" written in the sand is recognized immediately as being the result of intelligent design and not a natural result of the regular movement of the waves or the random footprints of birds.
Are these things testable? Can standards be created according to observable concrete examples in the world in order to help us determine if an object is the result of natural, random causes or an intelligent cause? Of course. In fact, such determinations are already being made by scientists. Geologists can easily spot the difference between a natural rock formation and an ancient human artifact because they recognize a standard for determining intelligent design. In the same way, the SETI Institute listens for signs of life in the universe, looking for examples of complex, meaningful information, which they assume can undoubtedly only come from an intelligent source. Is it unscientific of them to presume to be able to observe the evidence and make a determination between natural phenomena and messages created by intelligent beings?
Is it reasonable, then, to say that only in the case of biology--contrary to all our experience in the other areas of science--complex, meaningful information came about from random, natural causes? Or is it more reasonable, consistent, and even scientific to come to the same conclusion in biology that we would in astronomy or geology?
So, according to this documentary (if the review is accurate), evidence for intelligent design is untestable and unobservable (even though scientists test and observe evidence for intelligent design in other disciplines on a regular basis), and therefore, ID makes a mockery of science. But it's perfectly acceptable to postulate theories that rely on everything popping out of nothing on its own (which, last I checked, goes against all known laws of science) or on multiple universes (which, by definition, we will never be able to observe). And how do they come up with these theories? Not from observations of what can be tested, but as logical extensions of their faith-based commitment to naturalism. Now that is an untestable theory based on faith, yet declared by law to be the only acceptable expression of science. Heaven forbid anyone should challenge or examine it.