In my recent post criticizing John McCain for his remarks about teaching ID, I quoted the following remark, from the article in the New York Sun reporting on McCain’s speech:
Responding to a question about a report that he thinks “intelligent design” should be taught in schools, the senator mocked the idea that American young people were so delicate and impressionable that they needed to be sheltered from the concept, which says God had a hand in creation and which has been challenged by Darwinists as unscientific.
I responded with:
Incidentally, in light of my previous post, we shouldn’t let slip the reporter’s statement that Darwinists dismiss ID because it is unscientific. It really drives me wild that this meme is so widespread.
This is the previous post being referred to. In it, I criticized biology professor Sylvia Mader for writing, in her biology textbook:
Still, teachers who have a solid scientific background are not comfortable teaching intelligent-design theory because it does not meet the test of a scientific theory.
I have been asked to clarify what I meant by my comment. I mean, ID is unscientific, right?
Indeed it is. I even devoted one of my CSICOP essays to explaining my thoughts on that question. As I explain there, I regard it as important and self-evident that ID and creationism are not science.
What bothers me about the reporter’s remark is the implication that scientists reject ID because it is unscientific. That is not correct. ID is rejected because the arguments made on its behalf are demonstrably incorrect. Period. That ID is unscientific is an additional criticism, one that is especially relevant in School Board fights and legal trials. It is not the primary reason for rejecting ID.
For example, ID proponents say that irreducibly complex biological systems are best explained via the action of a mysterious intelligent agent. This suggestion should be regarded as unscientific for its reliance on an intelligence of unspecified motives and abilities, for its inability to be tested via experiment or observation, and for the fact that it does not suggest any novel or interesting lines of investigation.
But the suggestion should be rejected because it is simply false that familiar evolutionary mechanisms can not account for such systems.
This distinction frequently gets lost in media accounts of this subject. Sadly, it sometimes gets lost in the writings of biologists, who should know better. Implying that ID is rejected because it does not meet a scientist’s conception of what science is plays right into the hands of the ID folks. One of their main arguments is that ID can’t get a hearing because scientists use arbitrary definitional conventions to rule ID out of bounds without giving any fair hearing to its arguments.
Readers whose only contact with this issue comes from brief accounts like the ones quoted above could easily conclude that they are right. That’s what I was objecting to.