Where does ID take us?
Some time ago I had a conversation with a well-known Scottish philosopher about the scientific basis of Intelligent Design (ID). He was sympathetic to the position, but made the point that he didn’t think ID ‘took us anywhere’. It reminded me of another similar conversation I had with a renowned theologian and scientist who, when I raised the subject of ID with him, said he didn’t think it was a good idea ‘to challenge the reigning scientific consensus’.
I remain puzzled by both comments. The latter, I think, is distinctly strange if not cowardly. I thought challenging the consensus when the evidence requires it was the essence of good science. Science would never have advanced to the stage it has if the rule was that the consensus should never be challenged. Where would such an approach have put the work of Galileo on cosmology, Harvey on blood circulation and even Darwin on the adaptation of species, to mention but a few?
Ironically, Darwinism has now become the unchallengeable scientific consensus, even though a growing body of scientific opinion is highly sceptical of it. It is decidedly career-damaging to express any criticism of Darwin’s theory, so maybe that’s why the theologian-scientist thought it better not to get involved in the exploration of ID. So much then for academic freedom.
But the philosopher’s comment intrigues me. Where does ID lead?
It is important to recognise that in science it is not where a particular finding leads that is of first importance but whether it is correct or not. When I was a PhD student I once asked my supervisor what he thought was the practical point of research I was doing. He gently reminded me that was not the primary question for a scientist. In science, he explained, we try to find out how things really are and concern ourselves with the implications later.
Sometimes the implications of scientific research might be unwelcome or undesirable. For example, the early nuclear scientists who split the atom were not deterred by the possibility that their work might lead to a massively destructive bomb.
If, as the scientific evidence clearly suggests , there is design in nature, then Intelligent Design is a valid inference. It clearly has significant philosophical and religious implications and, for example, supports theistic belief. However, that does not make the design inference inherently a philosophical or religious proposition. The connection between theory and implication is also clearly seen in the well-known dictum of Richard Dawkins that Darwin made it possible to be ‘an intellectually fulfilled atheist’ .
There are, nonetheless, significant practical implications from the design inference. For example, scientists might not have wasted years with the ‘junk DNA’ theory , and might have made speedier progress with genetic research, if a design perspective had been taken. And the sophisticated molecular machines in living things might give bio-engineers design models from which to develop similar systems which would bring lasting benefits.
So where does ID take us? As I have indicated above, it takes us to important practical and philosophical outcomes. It gives a more intuitive and accurate interpretation of the scientific data about life and the cosmos; it opens the possibility of better understanding the nanotechnology of living things and perhaps replicating some of them in our man-made systems; and leads to philosophical and religious implications which could enrich our lives. But, most of all it takes us nearer the truth about the universe and our part in it.
Dr Alastair Noble
Director, The Centre for Intelligent design UK
 See eg Signature in the Cell – DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, Stephen C Meyer, HarperOne , 2009
 The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins, Penguin, 1986, p6
 See The Myth of Junk DNA, Jonathan Wells, Discovery Institute Press, 2011
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