Those of us who are familiar with the views of Melanie Phillips are aware that she is nothing if not a champion of unpopular causes, and can only admire her persistence in continuing to fight her corner even when all of the available evidence is stacked against her. For example she still steadfastly refuses to believe that there is no evidence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism and will pounce on the most tendentious and discredited “evidence” to try to ridicule the notion of man made global warming (see the comments to the piece for why this is rubbish). Furthermore, I have previously documented her strongly held belief that Barack Obama was not just the second best candidate in the US presidential election but a serious threat to Western civilisation as we know it (and especially to Israel).
Well now Mel has turned her attention to the theory of Intelligent Design and is most upset at the Today programme for “misrepresentation of Intelligent Design as a form of Creationism”. Now those of us who believe that ID is in fact Creationism dressed in fancy trousers in order to give it a veneer of respectability may scoff, but Mel is most insistent
the fact is that Intelligent Design not only does not come out of Creationism but stands against it. This is because Creationism comes out of religion while Intelligent Design comes out of science.
Yes, Intelligent Design is in fact a bona fide scientific theory. And how does Mel justify this claim?
Creationism, whose proponents are Bible literalists, is a specific doctrine which holds that the earth was literally created in six days. Intelligent Design, whose proponents are mainly scientists, holds that the complexity of science suggests that there must have been a governing intelligence behind the origin of matter, which could not have developed spontaneously from nothing.
So in part it is a scientific theory because many of its advocates are scientists. Well maybe they are, although Mel offers no evidence for this, but then many scientists are Christians but this does not in itself make Christianity a scientific theory. What is relevant is not just whether an advocate of a particular belief is a scientist but also whether they are qualified in the particular field under discussion and whether they are able to back up their views with actual evidence. AGW skeptics such as Mel always point to petitions signed by lots of “scientists” who support their view but very few of them have any kind of qualification in climate science.
Yes, there are certainly questions still to be answered around the beginning of the universe and the origin of matter, the big bang, the existence of dark matter etc. but there is no serious body of scientific opinion proposing ID as an answer. There is much excitement about what secrets the Large Hadron Collider might yield (once it is fixed) but there is no suggestion that it will reveal the hand of a hidden designer (Mel does know that the “god particle” is named ironically, right?).
As for evolution, the main target of ID-ers. well it is one of the most successful scientific theories devised by mankind. Not only can we see the evidence in the world around us but with the discovery of DNA and the nature of heredity we understand how it works at the molecular level. There is simply no need for an Intelligent Designer and not the slightest bit of evidence for one.
In fact Intelligent Design does not, even by Mel’s own reasoning, ”come out of science”, it is a rejection of science. If you hold that “the complexity of science suggests that there must have been a governing intelligence behind the origin of matter” then you are explicitly rejecting the possibility that science will itself provide an explanation of those complexities we do not yet fully understand. There are questions to which science cannot currently provide an answer but that doesn’t mean we have to consider any other superficially attractive proposition when there is no actual evidence to support it. The US National Academy of Sciences puts it well
Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science. These claims subordinate observed data to statements based on authority, revelation, or religious belief. Documentation offered in support of these claims is typically limited to the special publications of their advocates. These publications do not offer hypotheses subject to change in light of new data, new interpretations, or demonstration of error. This contrasts with science, where any hypothesis or theory always remains subject to the possibility of rejection or modification in the light of new knowledge
So if ID is not science is it really of a different nature to Creationism as Mel claims? Not really - many religious believers do not take the creation myth as a literal description of how God created the earth, but they still believe there is a creator and this belief relies on faith, not evidence. As does the existence of Mel’s Intelligent Designer – he may not be the same as the Christian/Jewish god (although given that Mel is a devout Jew it would be rather odd if this was the case) but his existence still requires a leap of faith. And it is this reliance on faith which separates both ID and Creationism from science. That is not to paint all people with religious beliefs as “anti-science” - most of them understand perfectly well the distinction between religion and science. What advocates of ID do is try to blur those boundaries – in fact they go further than trying to explain what science cannot, they (like the Creationists) try to provide alternative explanations for that which science itself can explain perfectly well.
That is why Intelligent Design is irrational, anti-science and anti-intellectual. And the irony is that this is from someone who sees themselves in the forefront of the battle to defend Western civilised values and rationalism from the forces of barbarism (i.e. Islam). One of the commenters puts it succinctly -
In the World War over religion, between the allies of Modernity and the axis of Mediaevelism Melanie Phillips is actually on the same side as the Iranian Mullahs, the Saudi princes and the Taleban