God is not a Scientific Hypothesis


Nick Gier

Professor Emeritus of Philosophy

University of Idaho 


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            In 2001 the Discovery Institute,
affiliated with conservative evangelical Seattle Pacific University, ran
full-page advertisements containing the names of dozens of scientists and
philosophers objecting to a PBS series defending evolutionary theory. On the
Institute�s website one of the scientists admitted that he had
not seen the program, but that he had still signed the statement because he was
a Bible-believing Christian.

            The Institute was invited by the
producer to offer scientifically tested and peer reviewed experiments supporting
Intelligent Design.  They were not able to meet this requirement, so they were
offered, but declined, a spot on the last segment that covered religious
responses to evolution.

            In a recent column in The New
York Times
Michael J. Behe, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and
professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University, argues that Intelligent
Design has been misunderstood and that it should be accepted as a legitimate
scientific alternative to Darwinian theory, which he claims fails to explain the
existence of �molecular machines of the complexity we find in the cell� (Feb. 7,

            Professional philosophers know
Intelligent Design as the �design� argument for the existence of God. Most
philosophers reject the argument as unsound, but Oxford philosopher Richard
Swinburne believes that the argument proves that God may have been the creator
of the laws of nature, but not the order and structure of the universe, which
could have come about by evolutionary development.

            Interestingly enough this
appears to have been Darwin�s original position.  The first edition of the
Origin of Species
contains an epigraph that indicates that God created the
universe with natural laws that, working solely on their own, could produce both
the physical and biological world as we know it.

American philosopher Richard Taylor has offered a defense of the design
argument that relies on the premise that nature is filled with signs that tell
us truths.  Our sense organs are not simply marvels to behold, but they are they
are also instruments of truth.   They tell us something about the world that is
totally independent of their own internal structure. It would, therefore, be
irrational for us to believe that our sense organs came into being by accident. 

            Taylor offers a now famous
example of travelers seeing a hillside sign �Welcome to Wales� made out of light
colored rocks.  Once they have booked into a Welsh hotel they inquire about who
made the sign.  To their amazement they are told that no one made, that it had
always been there, and that was the reason they called the country �Wales.�

            Taylor has certainly given us a
great story, but he has failed to appreciate the blind but beautiful logic of
natural selection.  Adaptation through eons of time has necessarily made our
sense organs truthful guides.  An organism that could not trust its senses would
fall out of the gene pool.  And there is something else wrong with Taylor’s
example: rocks do not adapt to their environment, but living organisms of course

            The appeal to intelligent design
is an argument by analogy.  The 18th Century Anglican priest William Paley
referred to the making of a watch, and Professor Behe offers us the sculpting of
the rock of Mount Rushmore.  The Scottish skeptic David Hume granted that there
is an analogy, but he claimed that it was actually quite weak.  In most cases we
can discover the specific reasons and mechanisms by which humans have created
things, but we have no direct access, other than mostly figurative references in
religious literature, to the reasons and specific mechanisms for a divine
creation.  Furthermore, divine creation, according to orthodox
Judeo-Christianity, is creation out of nothing, while humans always produce out
of existing materials.

            Using God as a hypothesis for
the order and structure of the universe fails as a scientific explanation. 
Christians claim, and their theologians have confirmed the proposition, that
with God �all things are possible.�  Therefore, whatever order and structure the
world might have, then God could have created it. This is the logical
fallacy of arguing in a circle.

            The evolutionary hypothesis has
been spectacularly successful in demonstrating specific reasons for specific
developments in thousands of the earth�s creatures. For example, we know that
sickle cell anemia developed for a specific reason in malaria infested Africa,
but creationists are left with a profound moral dilemma with this and many other
similar examples.  Natural selection has no moral scruples, but creationists
must defend a deity who creates a myriad of things that can have both good and
evil effects.

            Intelligent Designers cannot
give the specific reasons that evolutionary theory can. They can only say �God
made it that way, and we honestly do not have any good answers about the evil
effects of divine creation.�  The standard appeals to divine mysteries are
obviously not explanations.

            I once witnessed creationist
Duane Gish in a debate with Grover Krantz, an anthropologist at Washington State
University.  Gish finished his presentation with a series of slides about the
stages of development of the Monarch butterfly.  He challenged Krantz to explain
how of this intricate and complex process came about by natural selection. 
Krantz said that this was not his field, but he assumed that biologists had not
yet found an explanation.  Compare Krantz�s humble answer with Gish�s implied
but triumphant answer that �God did it.�

            The creationist answer is not
only arrogant but ignorant about how science operates, and how it must remain
agnostic when there are no plausible hypotheses. Claiming that God created the
Monarch such that it would go through these stages explains nothing at all about
how butterflies actually came about.

            A hypothesis that explains all
possible order and structure explains nothing about the specific operations of
our incredible cosmos.  Evolution has proved itself to be a very successful
scientific hypothesis in this regard, but it has nothing to say about ultimate
origins.  At this point people should turn to philosophy and theology and 
choose their own answers to nonscientific, but critically important, questions
such as �Why is there something rather than nothing at all?�  The scientific
method cannot answer this question, but the world religions have lots of
interesting and worthy answers.

            Therefore, Professor Behe is
wrong to assume that �in the absence of any convincing non-design explanation,
we are justified in thinking that real intelligent design was involved in life.�
I have argued that Intelligent Design is a philosophical and theological
hypothesis, not a scientific one.  As long as people continue to ignore this
essential distinction, this controversy will continue with negative consequences
for our cultural stability and the integrity of science education in this


                Articles of related interest are �Creationism:
Bad Science; Wrong Religion� (www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/
) and  �The Three Story Universe� (www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/gre13.htm).

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