A Note on Intelligent Design
A few days back I saw a show on Sir Issac Newton on the High Definition broadcast by my local public television system that afforded an ironic picture of what a substantive theory of Intelligent Design might be. Newton, the quintessential empirical scientist did believe in God. On the web I found an article on Newton and Socinianism in which Newton is quoted as saying:
“This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.”[i] The final line of the theological portion of the General Scholium concludes: “And thus much concerning God; to discourse of whom from the appearances of things, does certainly belong to Natural Philosophy”.[ii]
What we have here is an intellectually responsible theory of Intelligent Design -- it is a part of Natural Philosophy, which is to say, a part of physics, chemistry, biology, and the rest. Thus, according to Newton, Intelligent Design is not an alternative to science, it is what science is about.
Of course, Creationists and advocates of the irresponsible theory of Intelligent Design are so wedded to their neurotic view of what the Bible "means" that they cannot accept this view since they are wedded to the thesis that the world we live on is only a few thousand years old, some 6 to 10 thousand years (which is unlike most elements of Intelligent design refutable and has in fact been refuted), and that humans were posited on the earth in all their glory, replete with speech no less, which is at variance with Newton's insistence that Natural Philosophy be restricted to hypotheses that are subject to verification through replicatable experimentation. The thesis that humans were plopped onto Earth full grown and speaking some language -- Aramaic? -- falls in the realm of magic or mysticism or some other similar domain.
The current issue of The New Yorker, has a very nice report on the trial of Kitzmiller v. The Dover. Over the period of several weeks the advocates of Intelligent Design, especially Michael Behe, took a terrible drubbing. The on line issue of the Magazine has a related interview with Margaret Talbot, who wrote the New Yorker article which you may want to read. Among other things, the pseudo-theory of Intelligent Design was revealed to ignore virtually all of science, choosing to focus entirely on biology, including especially their favorite whipping boy, Darwin. I invite you to read this article. In the trial, the main advocates of ID were subject to rigorous crossexamination representing the first such case in American history.
The Dover school board had ordered a short statement be read mentioning Intelligent Design as an alternative to the theory of Evolution before the section on Evolution and this was what prompted the trial. The judge will give his ruling in January. The voters in the Dover school district have already given their verdict, ousting all Eight Republicans who supported the statement on ID and replacing them with Democrats who opposed them. I am betting the judge will take a similar view.
[i]Newton, The mathematical principles of natural philosophy by Sir Isaac Newton: translated into English by Andrew Motte, 1729, 2 vols., reprinted with an introduction by I. Bernard Cohen (London: Dawsons, 1968), vol. 2, p. 388. For this and the next quotation from the Principia, I use the familiar wording of the Motte translation. Afterwards I employ the modern translation of I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman.
[ii]Newton, Mathematical principles, pp. 391-2. This reading is based on the third edition of 1726, which substituted “natural” for the word “experimental” in the second edition of 1713, thus broadening the claim.