Intelligent Design and Faerie Rings

The Intelligent Design (ID) folks are trying really hard to characterize their agenda as science. They are even distancing themselves from the creationists a bit. Their point is not completely irrational: good science should not exclude design as a possible explanation. They think that evolutionary science is biased because it does not include design as a possible method for what we see in terms of the intricate complexity of organisms.

So, shockingly, let me agree with the ID folks on this one thing: I agree that science should not exclude design as a possible explanation.

If I could, though, I want their agreement on something in return: design should be the very last thing that science ever considers. As soon as science turns to design as an explanation it is basically saying that you can’t explain the phenomena naturally. This in turn implies that the “designer” who is normally called God in every other context, broke the laws of physics at various points in the evolution of the earth and its creatures.

I can illustrate why it is imperative that design is the very last explanation that should ever be relied on from an example from a talk I was at recently by Eugenie C. Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, entitled “Intelligent Design and the Creation/Evolution Controversy”.

There are things called faerie rings which are perfectly circular mushroom patches that appear overnight. You’ll go out in the forest one day and where there was nothing the day before is a perfect circular ring of mushrooms. These are called faerie rings because in the olden days people thought that the faeries had a party there the night before and created and danced around in this ring.

When the speaker showed a picture of a faerie ring the very first thing that popped into my head was design: this did not look like something created naturally. My suspicion was that someone had planted whatever you plant to create mushrooms years or aeons ago and occasionally they spring up overnight, which mushrooms can easily do.

The truth is much more simple. The particular kind of fungus grows underground concentrically, like the roots of a tree. The circular pattern seems immediately very natural when you thing about it this way. The fungus grows out from the center and when conditions are right all of the “roots” of equal age (i.e. equal distance from the center) bloom at once.

If one were to focus on the explanation which involves design (this had to be people who created this) you would completely miss the more simple and natural explanation. The science stops the second you invoke design and instead of looking for a natural explanation the quest turns to a search for the designer.

Thus, if we are to practice good science, we can never invoke design as an explanation unless there is overwhelming proof of such design. I suspect that such proof can never exist because even if we watched some unexplainable magic happen right before our eyes, scientists would still seek a natural explanation. This is because that is what science is — natural explanations of natural phenomena.

Look — there might be a God and he might do magical stuff every now and then. I don’t exclude that possibility. From the vast, deep, broad and thorough body of science we have, there is no proof of this. This does not in any way mean that science says there is no God, it means that God, if he exists, works through science and not outside of science.

This is the inexplicable core of ID that we science types just don’t get. The ID and creationist folks want to live in a world where you can prove the existence of God. They want science to go: wow, look, this must mean there is a God. Science ain’t ever gonna do that. Science says: wow, look, something we don’t understand, let’s try understand it. Scientists would love to get their hands on the water Jesus walked on, do tests on Lazerus or get Jesus to turn water into wine in the laboratory. There would be some fascinating science there. That’s our job — look for the science and exclude the magical.

So as the ID folks desperately try to craft their agenda as science it just can’t be. As soon as you introduce the supernatural, by definition, it ain’t science anymore. If God exists and there is scientific proof that God exists, science will look for the science behind God. They will never just say: oh well, looks like God did it. I don’t get why the ID folks want them to say that.

Intelligent Design and Faerie Rings

3 thoughts on “Intelligent Design and Faerie Rings

  1. Great post. Fortunately not everyone is aware Intelligent Design as it is; the goal of those behind the movement is to get a dialogue started. With every new mention of ID, pro or con, its proponents earn a point in their favor. Do you believe that it is an idea better off ignored, or is it too dangerous of an idea to leave untouched? I can’t help but think that we are feeding into the movement by validating their right to a position in the evolution debate.


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