We consider the 2010 book The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow (screenwriter for Star Trek: the Next Generation), but first we must lay some groundwork. For ease of digestion this post is split into three parts, the first two parts being introductory.
Intelligent Design and the limits of science
To start with, here’s an old chestnut: is ‘Intelligent Design’ a scientific hypothesis? Well, it is a hypothesis, and a most intelligent hypothesis, held by the brightest of minds for thousands of years, that something with the appearance of design (which even atheists admit) is actually designed. Whether or not it is true, it cannot be denied except by the most churlish that the inference is a reasonable one. However, if we deliberately limit the term ‘scientific’ to natural science, wherein scientific hypotheses have natural explanations exclusively in terms of natural phenomena from within the natural world itself – a closed system where there is no external causation, or where at the very least external causation is beyond the scope of scientific explanation – then according to this definition intelligent design cannot be a scientific hypothesis.
But so what? All this means is that science is deliberately limited in explanation, and deliberately so limited by definition. Primary causation is not only outside but also incomprehensible to scientific enquiry, so primary causation, even if true, cannot offer a ‘scientific’ explanation. Without access to the designer’s original plan, as it were, where could the hypothesis of intelligent design take us from a ‘scientific’ perspective? It has no explanatory power, no predictive capability, no falsifiability within the self-defined and self-limiting ‘scientific’ realm. As an example, if I tell you in all truth that the jet engine was designed by Frank Whittle, what does that fact tell you about the jet engine other than that it was designed by Frank Whittle?
This really is no big deal. It’s no different in principle from saying that ‘internal mail’ is post that travels exclusively within a company, or ‘inland mail’ is post that travels exclusively within a country. None of these concepts and definitions precludes the possibility that mail can come into a company or a country from outside. Just as the term internal/inland comports a limiting definition when applied to mail, so the term ‘scientific’ comports a limiting definition when qualifying a hypothesis.
Of course, it would be wholly illogical to suggest that because invoking a divine creator is not a ‘scientific’ explanation then there is no creator and no primary causation. That would be a fundamental fallacy, like saying that because invoking the concept of international mail is beyond the scope of inland mail then there can’t be mail from other countries or mail systems in other countries, so you can’t have international mail. A divine creative act is by definition not a scientific explanation, nor should a ‘scientific’ explanation be sought (or accepted) if we know (or believe) that creation was by primary causation – any scientific explanation proffered will by definition be wrong. To use the analogy again, if we know or have reason to believe that some mail is international it will be wrong to insist and define that all mail in circulation within a country must be inland mail. A creative act of bringing the universe into being is by definition a cause from outside the universe that is beyond the reach of scientific enquiry and the methods of natural science. But philosophy and theology can go further than science, into the realm of metaphysics. Science chooses to shut itself inside its closed box.