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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Intelligent design: an unintelligent idea

    Talyor Kessinger columnist
    Talyor Kessinger
    columnist

    Ben Stein, best known as the economics teacher in “”Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,”” the host of his own game show and the mascot for Clear Eyes, has somehow managed to procure an even more humorous role – as the poster boy for intelligent design, the laughingstock of the scientific community.

    Stein appeared Monday on “”The O’Reilly Factor”” to trump the values of his upcoming movie, “”Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,”” which argues that secular science has unfairly ousted discourse regarding intelligent design. Stein believes the theory deserves fair treatment in schools and in science.

    What the movie, due in February, won’t tell you is the truth regarding intelligent design. The “”theory”” is so embarrassingly poorly argued and devoid of scientific merit that even the Rev. George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory – not exactly a bastion of anti-theistic vitriol the last time I checked – has denounced it as an unscientific idea that simply “”pretends to be”” science.

    Stein elucidates in a blog on the film’s Web site that science operates under a form of “”anti-religious dogmatism”” under which scientists “”are not even allowed to think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator.”” In a ham-fisted reference to the First Amendment, he asserts that freedom of speech in this country ought to include freedom of inquiry.

    But freedom of speech doesn’t protect the rights of professors to make claims with no scientific backing without repercussions. Universities don’t stand for professors who waste funds and time researching astrology, parapsychology or other pseudoscientific ideas, and they never should.

    Stein and his fellow design advocates don’t care about equality or fairness. They want intelligent design to be “”special”” in this regard, so that they can pretend their belief in God – a faith-based belief – somehow has scientific backing.

    Contrary to the popular belief among beleaguered design theorists, there is no conspiracy to destroy religion in science. University faculty members continue to hold a multitude of religious positions even in evolutionary biology departments, and in the dozen or so biology textbooks I’ve looked through, I have yet to find the phrase “”God does not exist.””

    On the other hand, does science discriminate against proponents of intelligent design? Well, sure, but only in the same sense that a university discriminates against bad students or the stock market discriminates against people who make poor financial decisions.

    If anything, the problem is that there isn’t enough discrimination against this idea.

    Evolution makes specific predictions regarding the physical and genetic structure of living and fossil organisms, as well as patterns and relationships we see between them. Every time a scientist studies a fossil or living creature, examines the biochemistry of an organism or sequences DNA from a cell, he “”tests”” the theory of evolution – and the theory has withstood every test thus far.

    Intelligent design simply asserts that structures like the human eye and bacterial flagellum couldn’t possibly have formed by random chance, so an intelligent designer is needed. Such statements demonstrate flagrant ignorance of evolution, whose driving force, natural selection, is the exact opposite of random chance. Worse yet, they take the form “”we can’t explain it, so maybe God did it”” – a logical error known as the “”God-of-the-gaps”” fallacy.

    But don’t take my word for it. Stein himself admitted on O’Reilly’s show that the theory is merely an attempt to “”fill in some of (the) gaps”” left by evolutionary theory.

    To circumvent these obvious failings, intelligent design theorists fall back on unscrupulous tactics. Stein’s movie hand-picks out-of-context quotes from evolutionary biologists to make the evolutionary position seem weaker – a multitude of evolutionary scientists appear in the film, and many, including legendary Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, have complained that they were misled regarding the film’s nature.

    If Stein and his ilk really want to leave their mark on the debate between science and intelligent design, the absolute best move on their part would be to define intelligent design in unambiguous terms, outline exactly what the theory predicts and explain how it can be tested. Until then, apparently, 90-minute “”documentaries”” filled with soundbites and rhetoric will have to do.

    Stein’s supporters apparently can’t tell the difference between science and pseudoscience. But for the rest of us, the difference is clear. Clear eyes, unclouded by wishful thinking, enable the rest of us to see that intelligent design belongs in theology, not in biology.

    Taylor Kessinger is a junior majoring in math, philosophy and physics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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