Is Intelligent Design Science?
It is frequently claimed that ID is not really science and is derived from religious ideas. But the strength of the Intelligent Design (ID) argument is that is entirely based on scientific observations. It also employs the scientific method known as ‘inference to the best explanation’. The difficulty for some critics arises because ID proposes an explanation which goes beyond purely natural processes. But that cannot rule it out as science if that is what the evidence suggests.
Suppose for a moment that a Designing Intelligence actually exists. Are we seriously saying that, if that is the case, science would be unable to recognise it from the material evidence produced by such a Designer? Scott Todd, an eminent American scientist, has actually said as much (Nature, Sept 30th, 1999). He claimed that ‘even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded because it is not naturalistic’. If that is the case, science is in real trouble. It has all the logic of saying that traffic signals can’t exist because some people are colour blind!
It is also claimed that ID is not science because it cannot make predictions that can be tested and that it cannot be falsified by experiment. Assuming that these are criteria for good science – and that is by no means certain – ID is capable of responding positively. As we have seen, there are theoretical criteria for detecting design such as probability and specificity. ID predicts that if you apply these principles to natural and living systems, you will get the answer that design is present. That exercise certainly involves making and testing predictions.
A more recent example comes from the recent and somewhat embarrassing abandonment by the scientific community of the idea of ‘junk’ DNA. The idea that 90% or more of our DNA is ‘junk’ because it has no function and represents the accumulated debris of our evolutionary past has been widely promoted. But very recent and convincing data from the study of human DNA in the ENCODE project indicates that at least 80% of our DNA is active and probably hugely complex. The interesting point here is that ID theorists have been predicting for years that this was likely to be the case within an understanding of biology that includes design. That sounds like a prediction coming true to me.
It is also worth noting that Stephen Meyer in Appendix A of his ground-breaking book ‘Signature in the Cell’ (HarperCollins 2009) lists a dozen or more predictions which arise from Intelligent Design
And, on the second point of ID being capable of being falsified, what is necessary is that someone demonstrates that functional information on the scale of DNA can arise without prior intelligence or that there is a clear step-by-step evolutionary pathway with all the intermediary stages to a bacterial flagellum or similar irreducibly complex structure. In either case, ID would fail. The fact that no such falsifications are forthcoming, or are likely to be, is testimony to the strength of the design hypothesis.
A further objection to the scientific status of ID is that its theorists do not undertake research and publish in the peer-reviewed literature. In fact, this is quite false. Discovery Institute in Seattle has recently noted the publication of almost 100 peer reviewed articles or papers in the scientific literature which are supportive of ID. These include the work of academics such as Michael Behe, William Dembski, Scott Minnich, Steven Meyer and Douglas Axe. And further work related to ID is being done in a number of laboratories around the world.
But there are two further points to make about this. In one sense, research work which supports ID is not the central issue. ID is essentially an interpretation of the data that already exists. While gathering more information is important in confirming a hypothesis, there is already enough on which to base the inference to design. And secondly, when assessing the claim that ID does not publish enough research, it is important to recognise that the peer review process is biased in the direction of the reigning Neo-Darwinian paradigm. Papers which argue the ID case are sometimes rejected because they are not judged to be consistent with the accepted naturalistic position on origins. Now there’s a real catch 22. You don’t publish enough ID research, but we will not approve it anyway because we don’t accept ID!
Dr Alastair Noble
Director of the Centre for Intelligent Design UK
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