Post Author: Bill Pratt
I’ve been reading Donald Prothero’s book Evolution, which is a book meant to show how powerful the evidence for evolution is. Prothero, a professor of geology, certainly seems to know a lot about fossils, but he seems to know remarkably little about intelligent design (ID), a theory he maligns early in his book.
Here is Prothero’s take on ID: “Reading the ID creationists closely, you find that they don’t offer any new scientific ideas or a true alternative theory of life competing with evolution. All they argue is that some parts of nature seem too complex for them to imagine an evolutionary explanation.”
Really? Is that what ID is?
Perhaps a better way to answer this question would be to ask ID proponents themselves to define ID, since they are the ones proposing the theory. I know it sounds crazy and Prothero certainly doesn’t think it’s a good idea, but let’s try any way.
According to the website of a leading ID organization, the Discovery Institute, below is a definition of ID. I will copy the entire definition here for your convenience, although you can go to the site yourself and read it there.
Intelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. 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. Through the study and analysis of a system’s components, a design theorist is able to determine whether various natural structures are the product of chance, natural law, intelligent design, or some combination thereof. Such research is conducted by observing the types of information produced when intelligent agents act. Scientists then seek to find objects which have those same types of informational properties which we commonly know come from intelligence. Intelligent design has applied these scientific methods to detect design in irreducibly complex biological structures, the complex and specified information content in DNA, the life-sustaining physical architecture of the universe, and the geologically rapid origin of biological diversity in the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion approximately 530 million years ago.
This definition is quite different from Prothero’s definition because it claims that ID is a positive scientific program that is studying the informational properties of certain features of the natural world. To say that ID is merely arguing that “some parts of nature are too complex to imagine an evolutionary explanation” is a gross distortion. The first thing one should do when debating an idea is to correctly define that idea. Let’s hope other writers who participate in this debate take a little more care than Prothero.