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Intelligence beyond the Horizon

March 2006 | by David Tyler

As noted in February’s ET, a judicial ruling in Pennsylvania means that ‘the ID fight is on’. According to this legal judgement, Intelligent Design is not science and should not be taught in science classes in state schools. The judge used very strong words, referring to the ‘breathtaking inanity’ of the school board.

The verdict appears to have influenced the BBC Horizon team, as their documentary on the subject had the title ‘A war on science’ (BBC 2, 26 January). Very quickly, viewers were introduced to ‘a battle between faith and knowledge’.

Evolutionary theory was presented as ‘unintelligent design’ (the result of natural selection acting on chance variations over time). From Charles Darwin to today, this theory has developed until it has become, in the eyes of most scientists, the cornerstone of biology.

The theory invokes natural causes only, making it easy for people to conclude that God had nothing to do with the origin of species (although even Darwin was prepared to accept that he created the first living cell).

Intelligent agency

In the programme, some of the leaders of the Intelligent Design movement were interviewed and allowed to present their case. They explained that intelligent agency should not be ruled out as inadmissible by science.

By analogy with human creativity, the marks of intelligent agency can be identified in a rational way. Consequently, evidence of these marks in living things and the cosmos can be evaluated within science.

The Horizon programme focused on one of these evidences — irreducible complexity. At a molecular level, the cell has many extraordinarily complex structures, some of which are critically dependent on their precise components.

If you remove or damage any one of these components the structure does not function at all. This means that bringing the structure into existence for the first time without intelligent causation is a non-starter.

Biochemist Michael Behe explained this by citing the best-known example — the bacterial flagellum. The Horizon programme introduced viewers to his argument but omitted most of the technicalities found in Behe’s book on the subject.

Opponents

After giving ID an airing, the programme featured responses from a variety of opponents. Two figures known to UK viewers were Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough. Neither gave any credence to the evidence-based claims of ID.

Dawkins said that even discussing such claims would give a dignity to the proceedings which it does not deserve. However, after describing ID advocates as ‘yapping terriers of ignorance’, it would be unreasonable to expect that any meaningful debate could take place!

Dawkins offered just one argument against the advocates of ID — the theory replaces one kind of complexity (in living things) with another (the intelligent agent) and so explains nothing.

A challenge to Behe’s claim for irreducible complexity for the bacterial flagellum was attempted by a US biologist, who said that 10 of the 50 components of the flagellum were found making up another complex cellular structure. This, he asserted, disproved the claim for irreducible complexity.

This was just beginning to look like a debate within science, and it raised the expectation that Behe would be brought back to respond to the challenge. However, there was no reappearance of Behe, and it would appear that the Horizon producers were satisfied that a knock-out blow had been given.

What people think

As many have pointed out, it is not the task of judges to rule on what is or is not science. Their task is to make legal judgements based on the law of the land. In the US, the ‘separation of church and state’ has become extremely complicated as a result of the secularisation of the intelligentsia. Since over 90% of US citizens think that God had something to do with origins, we can infer that the debate will go on!

Very little has been published on what British people think about the theory of evolution or what should be taught in schools. The Horizon programme commissioned a MORI poll to find out. This was reported on the BBC web site.1 The results were surprising. Some 39% said that their views were best described by either ‘creationism’ or ‘intelligent design’ while 48% said their views were best described by ‘evolution theory’. When asked what they would like to see taught in science lessons in British schools, the figures were equally dramatic — 44% said creationism should be included; 41% said ID should be included; and 69% wanted evolution to be part of the curriculum.

Clearly, there is a groundswell of opinion favouring the teaching of alternative theories of origins in science.

To assist Christians thinking through these issues, the British-based Biblical Creation Society has recently published a special issue of its journal Origins. For a free copy of this issue, UK readers of Evangelical Times are invited to write to BCS, PO Box 22, Rugby, Warwicks, CV22 7SY.