An argument has been raging over the idea of teaching 'intelligent design,' i.e. introducing into science lessons the idea that a Creator could have directed the process of evolution. The reason why I've opposed teaching it in a science class is because for something to qualify as science there has to be scientific evidence. Recent advances in science (notably the Human Genome project) have given us the tools we could use to actually test whether random chance is sufficient to explain evolution or if it is insufficient; if it is insufficient that would provide some hard scientific evidence at least of some other influence which accelerated the process. I've contemplated how this could be tested scientifically for years, hence the following post:
Recently I've discovered the joy of facebook (well, specifically, I had it thrust upon me one day about a month ago when my precocious thirteen year old decided I should be on it and came up to me and announced, "Dad, you have a facebook. What's your password?") It's actually been great though, as I've discovered people from all different phases of my life. So yes, if you've noticed a recent drop in blog volume that may be one reason why (as well as the fact that I'm in the process of writing a math book.) Blogging however has some specific and useful qualities and one of them is it gives me room to lay out some deeper thoughts (hence the name of this blog.)
On facebook, There is a page for the U.S. Constitution (yes, I'm a fan.) Often there are discussions there about the topic of 'Intelligent design' (I'm not sure why they show up so often on the U.S. Constitution message board but they do.) Intelligent Design is the idea that while life may evolve, the process of evolution itself (or whatever other method one ascribes to explain the diversity of life) is directed by the unseen hand of an intelligent Creator. In other words, it's a continuation of the debate that has raged since Darwin first published his work more than 150 years ago.
I'd like to first quote a rebuttal I gave to one proponent and then expand on an idea that I alluded to in the comment.
The rebuttal is as follows:
It's not that science does not look at all possibilities, it's that what is taught as basic knowlege in a science class is theory backed by evidence.
I personally do believe that God directed the process of evolution, but unless I can show some hard scientific evidence (fossil record, DNA or otherwise) then that is my opinion (and maybe even the opinion of hundreds of millions of people) but that doesn't in itself make it science.
As a matter of fact, I did once design an experiment that could actually test intelligent design but as far as I know it or any other experiment to test the same have never been carried out. Until there is experimental evidence it's not science.
Which brings us to the question HOW WOULD YOU TEST INTELLIGENT DESIGN?
A proper scientific experiment has to meet certain criteria. It must be replicable (i.e. someone else should be able to do the same experiment that you are doing, and get the same results); it must include a hypothesis before you actually produce any results stating clearly what you are theorizing and what results you would expect to see if your hypothesis is correct; and it must be consistent with what has previously been observed or discovered scientifically.
With the opening up of the genome, I have an idea for how you could test intelligent design. Granted, it's a rudimentary idea and one which would require extensive computer modeling, very complex calculations and certainly some guesswork in which you could only look at a high and a low end, but nonetheless it is an idea that could be tested scientifically.
Suppose we have the genome of a human and the genome of a simple eukaryotic cellular organism similar to the earliest eukaryotic cells on earth (both of which thanks to science including the Human Genome Project, we do have.) We could then use mathematical modeling to model how many random mutations the DNA of the eukaryotic cell would have to go through to produce a human (or a rat, monkey or elephant if you prefer.) You could also determine (and this is where some level of guesswork comes in, especially given our less than perfect knowlege of science) how many generations you would go through in going from a cell billions of years old to a modern day human.
Once you had that number and you've already used supercomputers to model the number of mutations you could get a number for the requisite number of mutations per generation (or heck, maybe it's generations per mutation-- I'm just suggesting a design for the experiment; someone else will have to crunch the numbers.)
NOW YOU NEED TO SEE IF THIS NUMBER IS HIGHER THAN THE RATE AT WHICH MUTATION WOULD HAPPEN BY PURELY RANDOM CHANCE. To do this you take a known species of bacteria and place one group in an unstressed and another in a stressed environment (such as heat or cold or the presence of a toxic chemical.) Some degree of natural selection would take place in the second group. You then measure the number of generations the bacteria go through and then find the genome of the end product of both the stressed and unstressed groups. If the number of mutations per generation is comparable to the mathematical model you had before (which should lie between these numbers given that the natural environment is sometimes, but not always stressed) then it would suggest that evolution happened by random occurrence. On the other hand if the mathematical model for the rate at which mutations had to occur was significantly larger than the range you have (say, even faster than rate of mutation of the stressed bacteria) then you will have produced scientific evidence that evolution by random mutation alone would be insufficient to explain the difference between eukaryotes and humans.
Would this solve the debate? No. Regardless of the results, you can be sure of that (either one side would say that the Creator didn't want to be detected and therefore fooled with the experiment, or the other would say that the lower than needed rate of mutation in the experiment might be explicable by something other than a Creator, such as contamination in the laboratory.) And both sides would certainly point to the guesswork and unknowns involved if they didn't like the results.
Conceded. But the unknowns and guesswork are based on things we don't know yet in science, but as science evolves (yes, science does evolve) we will have fewer guesses and more certainty.
The Genome project however has at least given us a WAY that we COULD try to test Intelligent Design. And until and unless it is tested and some evidence is found, it is not appropriate to teach it in a science class.