I have been asked to post this letter on my blog. It was a response to an article by Andrew Copson in the Guardian on Intelligent Design. I was happy to add my signature to it.
Copson’s Ignorance of Intelligent Design
Andrew Copson ('A Birthday Present for Darwin', 9th November) describes the proposal to teach evolution in primary schools as an ‘important defence against the ignorance of intelligent design’. Apart from the clear insult to the British people, a majority of whom, when polled, think that intelligent design should be explored in schools, we are concerned about Andrew Copson’s own ignorance of intelligent design.
Like others who adopt his position, he appears to confuse intelligent design with religious belief. While creationism primarily draws its conclusions from religious sources, intelligent design argues from the data available in the natural world. The origin of life, the integrated complexity of biological systems and the vast information content of DNA are not matters which have been near-adequately explained by purely materialistic or neo-Darwinian processes.
Copson advocates accepting the evidence, and that is precisely what intelligent design theorists do. In an area like the origin and development of life, where we cannot observe what happened directly, a proper scientific approach is to make an inference to the best explanation. In the case of the functional information embedded in biological systems, the best explanation, based on the observation everywhere else that such information only arises from intelligence, is that it too has an intelligent source. If Andrew Copson is sceptical of the scientific respectability of this approach, we urge him to read Dr Steven Meyer’s recent book, ‘Signature in the Cell’.
Intelligent design is, therefore, a minimal commitment to intelligent causation. If you insist, by definition, that this kind of explanation is to be excluded in the study of origins, then, of course, you can argue that intelligent design is not a valid scientific position. But if you do that, you have adopted a philosophical, not a scientific, stance and created a circular argument. It is also a category error to imagine that evolution is the opposite of intelligent design.
Clearly, a design paradigm can embrace evolutionary processes. In addition, the evidence for evolution is treated as if all aspects of it are uniformly convincing, failing to distinguish between what is directly observable, such as change and adaptation through natural selection, and the more speculative elements, like the descent of all living things from a single ancestor. The evidence for both is not of equal force.
If evolution is to be taught in schools, it should be done properly, recognising the tentative nature of scientific conclusions and not excluding legitimate scientific propositions which challenge the reigning paradigm.
And on a further point, Andrew Copson overstates his case. Current Government guidance does not specifically ‘prohibit’ the teaching of intelligent design in science lessons. It concludes, wrongly in our view, that intelligent design is not a scientific position, but recommends that if it is raised by pupils in science lessons it be dealt with appropriately. That’s a somewhat different position.
Dr Alastair Noble, Educational Consultant, Eaglesham, Scotland