Several readers have asked me to comment on the issue of “intelligent design.” This is a debate that sharply divides even conservatives. For example, last week Charles Krauthammer wrote a blistering editorial claiming that ID was nothing more than a "tarted-up version of creationism" which "may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological 'theory' whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge -- in this case, evolution -- they are to be filled by God." He goes on to say that ID "violates the most basic requirement of anything pretending to be science -- that it be empirically disprovable. How does one empirically disprove the proposition that God was behind the lemur, or evolution -- or behind the motion of the tides or the 'strong force' that holds the atom together?"
Respectfully, while Krauthammer is brilliant with regard to politics, here he is simply mischaracterizing ID in order to heap scorn upon it. It is not surprising that many conservatives reject ID, because conservatives are generally logical people. However, one can prove anything with logic, so long as the conclusion follows logically from the premise. If your premise is faulty, then so too will your conclusion be faulty.
Perhaps I should emphasize up front that I wholeheartedly agree with Krauthammer that intelligent design should not be taught or even discussed as science per se. For intelligent design accepts what science discloses as true, but then asks what it means on a "meta" level. It's like the difference between studying history vs. studying the meaning of history, two entirely different things. Science generates only tentative conclusions, which is as it should be. It is the job of theology and philosophy to decipher the meaning of what various disciplines disclose about reality. Science itself is devoid of meaning, which is, again, as it should be. In itself it can make no pronouncements whatsover on the origin of the cosmos, the genesis of life, the meaning of consciousness, the purpose of human existence, the purposes to which science should be put, etc. It's just a shame that children are no longer taught philosophy, and instead are taught idiotic and fraudulent things like African American studies, feminism, multiculturalism, etc.
Bottom line: teaching intelligent design in a science class may be good metaphysics but it is bad science. However, at the same time, using science to justify a materialistic philosophy is junk metaphysics, because doing so is simply dressing up assumptions as conclusions. In fact, we could take Krauthammer's exact words and apply them to scientific reductionism: "it is simply a tarted-up version of materialism which may be interesting as a sort of godless theology, but as philosophy it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological stance whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge--in this case, evolution--they are to be filled by chance. Materialism violates the most basic requirement of anything pretending to be philosophy--that it be logically coherent. How does one logically disprove the proposition that pure chance was behind the lemur, or evolution--or behind the motion of the tides or the 'strong force' that holds the atom together?"
Science is simply a method designed to quantify and measure objective realities. By its very nature, it is barred from addressing subjective reality, nor can it measure qualities (without reducing them to quantities). Scientific fundamentalists who dismiss ID generally elevate the methodological reductionism of science to an ontological reductionism, which is completely unwarranted and inappropriate. It is to announce that what science systematically ignores cannot exist.
Krauthammer suggests that ID is a closed system, when in fact, the opposite is true. The very reason why science, when elevated to a metaphysics, generates so much paradox and absurdity is that it is a closed system, regarding only the material realm as real. Therefore, everything outside materiality escapes its purview. In point of fact, science, if taken to its logical extremes, undermines its own assumptions in several ways. That is, science has run into several “limit cases” that long ago proved its inability to account for the whole of reality. In my book I go into a lot more detail, but I will simply hit some of the highlights here.
One of these limits is disclosed by modern physics. Bell’s theorem proves that reality is nonlocal, meaning that the universe is internally related and that it has connections that transcend space and time, the implication being that the universe itself cannot be contained within our artificial bounds of space and time. Physics provides us only with a mathematical net or “container,” but not the content, which slips through the container like water through a sieve. The world, even at its most fundamental level, exceeds our ability to measure or contain it. Science begins with the assumption that the cosmos is composed of externally related parts (logical atomism), while modern physics shows that the universe is fundamentally an internally related whole that has the capacity to operate "vertically" in a top-down manner, i.e., from whole to part. Indeed, this newer understanding of wholeness allows us to get past many scientific paradoxes and blind alleys in a way that materialism never will.
Another limit of science is called the “Universal Complexity Barrier (UCB),” an idea developed by David, I mean William, Dembski. In addressing the origins of life, the real problem is the origins of information, not just any information, but the staggeringly complex information found in the DNA of the simplest living thing. There are only four ways this complexity could have come into being: 1) chance, 2) necessity, 3) some combination of chance and necessity, or 4) design. Not too long ago, scientists simply assumed that chance would have eventually resulted in the emergence of life. However, this was before it was understood that life has only been here for 3.85 billion years, and that the planet was too hot to sustain life prior to about four billion years ago. Therefore, there was only a window of about 150 million years for chance to operate, which is far too short a time.
The problem encountered here by scientific fundamentalists is that the hypothesis of chance runs aground against the dictates of the UCB. To take an example, a hundred monkeys pounding away at a hundred pianos will never produce the works of Duke Ellington. At most, they may produce a few bars of Take the A Train, but there will always be an upper limit on how much “complex specified information” (CSI) will result from pure chance, and beyond which the monkeys cannot go.
Other scientific theories to account for the emergence of life are just variations on the same theme, but they all come up against the UCB. For example, the combination of chance and necessity can result in a little more CSI, but nothing approximating the complexity of life. Scientists have also been searching for an “evolutionary algorithm” in nature that can account for the emergence of life, but no matter what they try, they cannot surpass the UCB. In short, it is a completely scientifically accurate statement to say that the simplest living cell could not have come about through any neo-Darwinist scenario of chance and necessity. Therefore, one may safely conclude not that God exists, but that the universe was either full of complex specified information from its very origin, or else that it cannot be a materially closed system subject only to “horizontal” causes found within nature. However, if you simply leave the matter there, you are a curiously uncurious person. Personally, I have no difficulty at all positing the existence of a cosmos with more dimensions than four, and which has both horizontal and vertical causation. After all, this is how our minds operate vertically to control the horizontal processes governing our material bodies.
Also, one must remember that natural selection is proposed in a medium called language, which natural selection is helpless to explain. To be perfectly accurate, either language explains natural selection, or natural selection explains language. Both cannot be true, for if language is reduced to a completely materialistic explanation, there is no reason to believe that it is capable of encoding and transmitting truth, so the assertion becomes logically self-refuting.
Another limit of science is Godel’s Theorems, which forever proved that there is no mathematical system that doesn't contain assumptions that cannot be justified by the system. The implication of Godel's theorems is that any consistent logical system will be incomplete, while any complete one will be inconsistent. Godel also believed he had proven that semantics--that is, meaning, or quality--can never be reduced to syntax--that is, mere order, or quantity. As such, the mind can never be reduced to matter, and the mind's ability to know far surpasses any reductionist explanation. Roger Penrose later used Godel's theorems to prove that the mind cannot be a computer, and that the mind exceeds the ability of any formal systen to capture it, much in the same way that nonlocality shows how reality exceeds the formal system of quantum physics.
Godel further believed that any scientific theory that tried to eliminate all paradox and inconsistency was doomed to failure and that "sooner or later my proof will be made useful for religion, since that is doubtless justified in a certain sense."
Bottom line: if blind materialism is true it is untrue, for it can never account for how matter may know the truth of itself. And if it is only matter speaking, what reason do we have to believe what it is saying? There is no knowledge at the level of the senses. Once you acknowledge that human beings are capable of knowledge--which is another name for truth--then you have lifted yourself out of any mere materialistic explanation. When matter is placed over spirit, all qualities are reduced to quantities, semantics to syntax. You thereby circle around and meet with the cognitive pathologies of the left, which also deny transcendent Truth.
Intelligent design does not prove the existence of God. There are much better ways to do that. It's just that science, properly understood, doesn't disprove it, and I think this is what animates the misguided impulse to try to teach ID as science proper. The God that is dismissed by the detractors of ID is simply a caricature, a "straw god" that they apparently internalized somewhere along the way due to an unfortunate encounter with some bone-headed or debased version of religion. And with people like Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton running around loose, those versions of religion are not difficult to find these days.