The theory of Intelligent Design is a highly contentious topic (as if I even need to say it), inciting public rants by ivory-tower academics, book-length treatises, innumerable blog posts, and ongoing debate on social media. I’m never surprised by the vitriol nor the utter mis-characterization of ID on the part of ID skeptics. I do often wonder if any of them have ever read anything beyond Richard Dawkins, Barbara Forrest, and P.Z. Meyers. They’ve got all the pithy talking points down pat, anyway. It’s pretty clear that they haven’t read a scholarly treatment of ID from an actual proponent of the theory. That alone is a red-flag indicator of intellectual irresponsibility. But, it is what it is.
What does continue to surprise me is how so many non-religious ID skeptics go on about the business of informing the world how “unscientific” and “ridiculous” ID theory is, all the while oblivious to what they are demonstrating about themselves. More on that in a moment.
The theory of Intelligent Design simply says that certain features of the natural world are best explained by a designing intelligence, and that blind Neo-Darwinian processes are insufficient to account for things like the specified complexity of the genetic code. (For a look at a STUNNING new secular paper on this, see “The ‘Wow! Signal’ of the Terrestrial Genetic Code” which is summarized HERE.) ID theory does not require the denial of common descent, by the way. That’s a misconception I’ve written about before.
Now, why would the ID skeptic be so bothered by this inference to design? The standard answers I receive are variations of: “Intelligent design is very dangerous! It is a science-stopper! If it catches on, it will cripple the future of scientific technology! Civilization will digress to the Stone Age!”
Every one of those statements is, in a word, ludicrous. I don’t know of a single ID proponent (and I know quite a few) that would be in favor of curtailing any avenue of scientific research. In fact, all of the ID theorists I’ve interacted with (professors, research scientists, graduate students flying under the radar) want MUCH MORE research done in the field of evolutionary biology in particular. Why? Because as research advances, we are discovering that life is FAR more intricate and finely-tuned than we could have ever imagined. This is exactly what ID would predict–that life is not based upon unguided evolutionary trials and errors, but instead involves numerous overlapping and wonderfully synergistic levels of complexity.
If a feature of life is discovered that seems to imply intelligent design, the ID proponent would say, “Awesome, let’s continue exploring it!” NOT “Okay, the Designer did it, case closed; let’s move on to something different.” ID skeptics who say that ID takes the latter approach are egregiously mistaken. They are directly perpetuating misinformation whenever they make this “science-stopper” claim.
Do they realize this? I believe at least some of them do, but they persist because they’re in denial about (or perhaps purposefully obscuring) what their genuine motivation is.
They despise the idea of a Designer. Such an entity would insinuate that human beings are not the result of cosmic accident and were intended and produced according to some sort of master plan. This, in turn, strongly implies that mankind may be morally accountable to a Maker.
I am convinced that this is why non-religious ID opponents are so very passionate, why many of them revel in name-calling and fallacious mud-slinging, and why many of these same folks write scathing criticisms of religious faith, Christianity in particular. For example, British scientist Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most well-known critic of ID, is also the author of The God Delusion, a book-length treatment of why belief in God is unjustified and even harmful to society. Eugenie Scott, a high-profile American that has been extremely outspoken against ID, happens to also be president of her local Humanist Association. Truly, their actions and associations speak for themselves.
After all, if they only thought the theory was wrong, they wouldn’t care nearly as much. I don’t believe extra-terrestrial life exists, but more power to the SETI project. If they want to search for aliens, I say so be it. If ID researchers see signs of intelligence in the features of life and would like to look for more, why isn’t the anti-ID crowd simply saying “so be it”? Why are so many dedicating their careers to snuffing out all traces of design-oriented thinking? It’s painfully obvious.
Whether they realize it or not, the anti-ID faction operates on textbook religious motivation, only it’s disguised as a noble crusade to protect science from the [alleged] insidious effects of ID theory.