Design, according to some, needs a designer. However, famous biologists and neo-Darwinists such as D. Dennett say that evolution “designs” by natural selection. If we accept that usage of the term, “design” does not by definition imply an intentional act (much like “the hand evolved in order to grasp” does not imply that evolution desires to achieve anything). If there are “blind watchmakers” who do “design”, then the following question is scientific:
Can we possibly, for example by investigating the designed “creation”, distinguish an intelligent designer, one that did have intentions, from an aimless design process like algorithmic evolution?
Are there telltale signs that reveal the input of an intelligent designer directly? Must there be such, even if the designer tries to hide herself? Can we, perhaps by analyzing the designed structure, prove that it implies an intelligent designer simply by not being possible without such? These are scientific questions, regardless of how one evaluates particular attempts at answering them when it comes to the universe or biological systems. These are scientific questions, regardless of the wishful thinking that motivates some to push these issues as if the existence of an intelligent agent behind our world would imply traditional monotheisms, let alone select any particular one among them, say Christianity.
Allow me to briefly digress for more, sadly necessary justification in order to ward off the pseudo-skeptics out to defend orthodox scientism: A new type of creationism has entered popular discourse through the backdoor. The hip computer/techno scene’s simulation hypothesis is creationism. Such also often enters, to some perhaps surprisingly, via the backfiring of overly simplistic arguments from “new atheists” like DeGrasse Tyson or physicists that think they got it all figured out but should sign up for undergraduate philosophy classes. Another topic worth mentioning is the implicit denial of evolution (See: Antidarwinism dominates Sci-Outreach) especially by “progressives” who claim to defend evolution: Bio-centrism (as well as Steven Pinker type bashing of group selection) implicitly rejects the beginning of life from pre-biological evolution; rejection of genetic influences on behavior fight “racism”, but also remove vital parts from evolution, so that it no longer works without – you guessed it – God almighty.
Anyway - to conclude the justification before getting into the meat of what I want to write: We are justified to soberly write about intelligent design (ID) on a science site. Usual “science sites” are sufficiently stuffed with preaching the evil of ID. [BTW: Since I was accused of copying: I had a look now. Wow – prominent ID sites do look more reasonable than most angry atheists’ sites. Thanks once again to all the science bloggers of the cheerleading for naïve scientism variety for that anything can look more trustworthy science wise. In fact, if you want to find clearly stupid mistakes, you will find many more on SB than on the ID sites I just looked at! Wow! Just Wow!]
The Inconsistent Dogma of Empiricism
Biological evolution is consistent with all empirical data, however, so is creation by a powerful creator and deception by a simulator (i.e.: I am a brain in a vat or inside “The Matrix”). Some hold the latter as un-scientific. They may define science via the approximation/construction of truth by an empirical method, often even to the exclusion of mathematics. Thus, refusing the conceivable possibility of being deceived by a simulator, is taken as a fundamental doctrine on which empirical data are trustworthy, as being supplied by an indifferent reality rather than a deceptive agent. Such “science” is not only based on belief (and thus not empirical). It also refuses to grow into a mature science that recognizes the role of the observer as constituting reality. Mature science may be able to do without such doctrine, say if logic could tell us that there is no phenomenal consciousness inside a simulation, or that quantum mechanics strongly constraints creating observers.
A side issue worth mentioning here: Quantum mechanics tells us that empirical data are a “consistent story” that we should expect to find, but if we do not find a consistent story, it is not strictly unexpected either. This doubts the status of empirical input as being fundamentally more than justification.
Evolution cannot be everything there is to be known
Algorithmic evolution is entirely able to accord for the whole of biological, social, and technological evolution. However, natural selection needs some background, some statistical ensemble on which selection can happen. Therefore, evolution cannot be everything there is to be known to the fundamental nature of totality. For example, without intelligent life back-reacting on the outcome of the universe, “fecund universe” theories, i.e. universes being evolutionary successful in the way they lead to more universes (via black holes, computer simulations, or inflating bubbles), cannot explain why thus created universes encourage the internal evolution of intelligent life.
Fecund universes, for example, is Lee Smolin’s idea of Cosmological NaturalSelection (CNS). CNS fails on several grounds, two being the following facts: In an infinite statistical ensemble where ratios cannot be observed (e.g. you cannot count other universes around), Darwinian argumentation explains nothing, because even the atypical is in infinite supply. Second: There is no explanation for why there is anything that can start the process. Where does the first black hole come from; in what first universe is it supposed to occur? This is strangely not asked by those who otherwise without fail demand to know "Who created the creater?". But again, the more important aspect is the one mentioned in the previous section:
If intelligent life does not lead to more universes (via creating them), there is no selection in favor of universes that produce intelligent life!
It is not surprising that an evolved life form has an elemental abundance (i.e. the ratio of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon atoms) that mirrors the elemental abundance of the environment that the lifeform happened to evolve in. However, if the life forms have precisely the abundance of the universe (instead of the abundances of their certain enriched niches inside that universe), it seems as if the universe is made for them. Neil DeGrasse Tyson argues that this is indeed the case for our universe! The anthropic principle, i.e. observer selection in that single universe, can obviously not explain observing such an elemental abundance! Such a relation points toward intelligences-make-more-universes scenarios. Nick Bostrom and NASA’s Richard Terrile argue similarly that universes are simulated (which may be fundamentally indistinguishable from “physical” existence), which claims that the fossil record is planted and not evidence for biological evolution. So, why not look for whether we find traces of such Intelligent Design, signs that give the creator away?
Should Intelligent Design be mentioned in school? Depends on what you want school to be. If you need it to make functioning technicians that fight for their nation’s resources under the excuse of spreading a pseudo democratic doctrine, then perhaps it is a bad idea. If on the other hand your school is turning out critically thinking individuals, how can mentioning some ID do harm?