The Right Coast

December 20, 2005
My pet peeve about the ID debate
By Tom Smith

New decision out here.

According to MSNBC (so who knows if it's true), the federal district judge reached the issue and opined that ID is "not science." This strikes me as confused, and confused in an important way.

ID is science, or at least attempted science. It may be bad science, but it definitely is science in that it hypothesizes an explanation of phenomena we can observe out in the world, and a hypothesis that can be tested against evidence. Just because a scientific theory is unproven, or even false, does not mean it is not science. A great deal of the work of science is done by failed hypotheses.

ID certainly seems to be religiously motivated. So what? Newton was motivated by his own, extremely peculiar hermetical, alchemical views, Stephen Hawking is motivated by his own militant atheism, Einstein was motivated by his own vision that God must have made the universe orderly, not random, and so on. Everybody has motivations, and wanting to disprove the theory of natural selection because you think it's inconsistent with Christianity or whatever, is as fair a motivation as any. Motivations frequently interfere with making science good, as with Stephen Jay Gould's Marxism interfering, in the view of many biologists, with his view of how evolution worked.

My view is that ID should not be taught in biology class because science is already taught badly enough in public schools. Take a look at your kids' science textbooks sometime. It's no wonder we have to import so many scientists from China and India. These books manage to make things like earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis boring. Natural selection involves animals figuring out ways, often incredibly sneaky, or violent, or just unbelievably complex, to eat each other, or have sex with each other, or in the case of spiders, have sex with then eat each other. I mean, for heaven's sake, female mantids bite off the heads of males while they are in mid-sex act, apparently because without its little brain, the male does an even better job giving mama mantid what she wants. That's boring? Disgusting maybe, but not boring.

I do not know enough about ID to know how bad it is as science goes. I suspect pretty bad. In principle, however, one can imagine a theory that would hypothesize that the mechanism of random mutation and natural selection could not produce organisms of some observed level of complexity. It would be very hard to show that, because you would need to have a very clear idea of what the design limits of the natural selection process are, and I don't think we know that yet. I suspect we may still discover some very weird things going on in the development of life on earth; I don't know what. I just have faith in the ongoing ability of real science to astonish; well, not science actually, but the really quite bizarre universe we live in.