Revisiting the Positive Case for Intelligent Design
By Casey Luskin
Recently I’ve had two encouraging discussions about the positive case for design. The first took place at the recent conference at Wheaton College where one of the speakers called intelligent design a “God of the gaps” argument. He didn’t intend that as a criticism, but afterwards we got into a friendly discussion about how ID is not a “gaps-based” argument after all, since there is a positive case for design that doesn’t depend on negating evolution, or pointing out a “gap” in our knowledge.
The second conversation came just after the Tennessee academic freedom law passed, when an ID-friendly science teacher e-mailed me. The teacher had seen my article explaining why ID is not covered by the law, but he asked the following question (paraphrased): If teachers are allowed to critique evolution, then in doing so aren’t they teaching intelligent design?
I replied to the question with a resounding no, in three parts.
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First, it’s very easy to give scientific critiques of neo-Darwinian evolution (especially as it’s taught in textbooks) without necessarily getting into ID. For example, without talking about intelligent design, you can discuss the fact that textbooks overstate the degree of similarity between vertebrate embryos and overstate the case for common descent. Or you can talk about how some features of organisms cannot be built in a step-by-step Darwinian fashion, likewise without any mention of intelligent design. Or you can talk about how the genetic data does not fit into a grand tree of life without saying a thing about intelligent design.
Second, scientists commonly debate the evidence for and against a theory, without necessarily offering an alternative, or replacement theory. Thus in science, sometimes the best conclusion you can draw is simply, “The evidence points in different directions, and right now, we just don’t know for sure.” In a classroom, this can be a great place to leave things. It will get students thinking about these questions and stimulate their interest in science.
Third, the argument for intelligent design is not a mere critique of evolution. Logically, we don’t establish intelligent design merely by negating evolution. After all, evidence against one theory is not necessarily evidence for another theory. Rather, to infer design, we have to make a positive case for it…
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