Intelligent Design Could Boost Scientific Discovery Rather Than Hinder It
Science and God: At Odds?
The comedy movie Nacho Libre is about a Mexican Friar who moonlights as a Luchador. At one point the titular character, Nacho, is discussing his faith with his tag-team partner. His partner surprises him by saying, “I don’t believe in God. I believe in science.”
Indeed, the modern world is more and more polarized, seeing “faith” and “reason” as opposites that cannot possibly be reconciled. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the raucous debate over the concept of ‘intelligent design.’
According to the website www.intelligentdesign.org:
“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.”
Dr. Kenneth Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, and one of the authors of the standard high school biology text book, says about Intelligent Design:
“…by placing the supernatural as a cause in science, you effectively have what you might call a science-stopper. If you attribute an event to the supernatural, you can by definition investigate it no further. If you close off investigation, you don't look for natural causes. If we had done that 100 years ago in biology, think of what we wouldn't have discovered because we would have said, "Well, the designer did it. End of story. Let's go do something else." It would have been a terrible day for science.”
The gist of the argument, touted by most Naturalists, is that Intelligent Design answers any given scientific question like a lazy parent explaining to a child why the sky is blue: “Because God made it that way.” This kind of answer (the argument states) destroys inquiry, and thus, science.
In 1944, during the Pacific Campaign of World War 2, three separate B-29 Bombers belonging to the U.S. Airforce made emergency landings in Soviet Russia. Russia did not possess the technology for heavy aircraft of this type, nor had the U.S. consented to share this technology. So when the Russians came into possession of the downed aircraft, they had their engineers examine the aircraft. Taking these planes apart piece-by-piece, the Soviet engineers were able to determine how these craft had been designed, and to replicate these designs.
Three years prior to this, a Swedish man named Georges de Mestral was returning from a hunting trip when he noticed burrs sticking to his clothing and to his dog’s fur. Fascinated by the way these seeds hooked onto fibers, de Mestral carefully studied the seeds design and discovered that they were covered with tiny hooks. Georges de Mestral carefully copied this design to create the product now known as Velcro.
Both the re-creation of the U.S. bomber planes and the invention of Velcro reflect a process known as “reverse engineering.” Reverse engineering is when a scientist looks at a design and then tries to determine how that design was put together so that they may understand its purpose. Often this is done in order to replicate the design.
Before reverse engineering is employed, however, it is almost always assumed that the subject of study has a purpose and a design to study. There is no compelling reason to take a pile of trash and try to determine its purpose and design. It is self-evident that the trash pile has no design, and that its only purpose is to dispose of unwanted and unusable materials. However, when an archeologist stumbles upon a stone temple, they will spend whole lifetimes attempting to determine both its purpose and its design. They do this because they know that it was designed by an intelligence, and they are compelled to learn as much as they can about this intelligence by studying their handiwork.
When a child asks why the sky is blue, and the parent responds “Because God made it that way,” any experienced parent will tell you that there is one show-stopper of a follow-up question coming: “Why?”
The child asks this because they know instinctively what Dr. Miller seems to have forgotten: that when an intelligent person designs something, they always do it for a reason. The reason for the design is always the far more compelling question than the bare mechanics of the design itself. When the archaeologist looks at the stone temple, if they were to say, “It’s just a pile of stones,” they would technically be correct. But this is not the question that most intrigues them. The far more intriguing question, the question that will drive them to a lifetime of study, is “Why was it put there in the first place?”