Strong vs. Weak Intelligent Design

I read an article on another blog (by D.C. Toedt) recently that to me really highlighted part of the “Intelligent Design” controversy. There has been and probably will continue to be a strong movement, especially in the South and Midwest, of Christians trying to get any alternative to Darwinian evolution taught in science classes. Because teaching a literalist or day/epoch version of the Genesis story and the closely connected “Creation Science” movement of the 80’s has been ruled either illegal or unconstitutional, conservative Christians have come up with Intelligent Design, a movement conveniently emasculated of Christian theology but still doing what is desired most by the creationist movement- denying that human life came about by evolution.

As I continue to study evolution, I’m convinced more and more that it is an extremely robust scientific theory that will likely never be overthrown. Evolution is continuously reinforced by new fossil discoveries (see the Smithsonian’s Human Origins project), molecular biology, and other fields. For example, scientists assembled phylogenetic trees trying to piece together the origins of various species long before DNA was understood. As scientists get more information from DNA, the phylogenetic trees have been confirmed with very little adaptation- for example, chimpanzees were thought to be the closest primate to humans before DNA was understood, and DNA studies have confirmed that they share 95-99% of their genes.

Toedt’s piece is illuminating in that it makes a distinction between arguments for ‘weak’ intelligent design and ‘strong’ Intelligent Design. The difference, in shorthand, is thus;

Strong Intelligent Design says evolution can not happen by physical means alone and therefore necessitates divine intervention. For example, Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, asserts that evolution has been well proven by the fossil record and phylogenetics, enough so that he believes in universal common descent (that all mammals have a common ancestor, etc.), but that if one wants to argue against evolution, they should stick to areas of biochemistry that haven’t been thoroughly explained yet. This sort of ‘God of the Gaps’ argument is irrationally, and (this is key) not a scientifically testable hypothesis.

Weak intelligent design says the overall complexity of the universe, and the fact that there is something instead of nothing, seems to intuitively point toward an ultimate cause. For obvious reasons, physical means (science) can’t be used to research the metaphysical (that which is outside the physical world), so assuming a metaphysical reason for a physical process gets in the way of understanding the physical process. I think I lean toward this one, just a bit.

Trying to keep evolution from being taught in schools is a holdover from fundamentalism that only makes Christians look ignorant (because the arguments largely play off the public’s ignorance of science), and ultimately interferes with trying to get people to follow the Christian ethic.

One Response to Strong vs. Weak Intelligent Design

  1. Matt says:

    I think it is pretty safe to say the following, given the facts and evidence available:
    * Evolution happened and is happening still.
    * Evolution has been proven as much as any scientific theory can.
    * Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory.
    * Intelligent Design is not logically feasible.

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