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In the Ham-Nye Debate, Not So Much as a Glove Was Laid on Intelligent Design

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Here's an important point to register: Whatever you think of the Ham-Nye debate or the presenters, intelligent design was off-topic.

The debate asked this question: "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era?" Loaded as that question is with philosophical and theological encumbrance, it has nothing to do with intelligent design. Creation (as the word is commonly employed) refers to the Genesis account, which may be read any number of different ways; ID does not. ID is not a "model," but rather an inference to the best explanation based on uniform experience with the cause-and-effect structure of the world. And ID certainly is widely employed in today's modern, scientific era, including by scientists who are not associated with "intelligent design."

Most of the debate centered on the credibility of Genesis. Ham treats it as literal history; Nye as an unreliable ancient text. Ham argues that the world is young, Nye that it is old. ID does not argue about religious texts, period.

Intelligent design warranted only two brief mentions in the debate. Ken Ham showed a slide that said the universe was intelligently designed. Bill Nye said that natural selection explains how designs like a watch can be achieved; in a memorable line, he said that evolution's mediocre designs get "eaten" by evolution's good designs. Each of these statements admits that design is apparent. The creationist explains it by God. The Darwinian evolutionist explains it by natural selection. Either way, design per se is a fact of observation that can be studied scientifically separate from any sacred text or religious authority.

Because creationists have a readily available Designer in God, they are usually quick to equate the two. ID, however, cannot establish if the designer is God, a god, or some other intelligence inside or outside the observable order of the universe. It's not that individual ID advocates don't care, it's just that ID theory doesn't ask that question because it would automatically take us outside the realm of science. ID filters out intelligent causes from non-intelligent causes. Some designers are certainly human, as with the crop circles once attributed by some to aliens or tornadoes. Since design inferences are routinely made in practicing sciences like cryptology, archaeology and SETI, the same scientific methods can be used, in the same way, to evaluate the causes of other phenomena, like the DNA code.

When applied to the origin of the universe or life, ID is a high-level question, the answer to which will have many downstream ramifications, but it does not depend on downstream premises. Ken Ham and Bill Nye were way downstream. More light would have been shed on the downstream questions by coming to grips with the high-level question first.

Photo source: Flickr/KWDesign.