Being Weak does Not Disqualify Intelligent Design


Yes, it is a weak idea, but it is still science.


Updated: 3/21/2006


Although I believe Darwinian evolution to be the far stronger theory, Intelligent Design (ID) is still a valid scientific hypothesis despite what some in the pro-evolution camp say. I believe that ID should be included in grade-school textbooks because it is a common question raised by students, and common questions should be anticipated by good teaching materials. However, the problems with ID, such as being difficult to test, should be pointed out in the textbooks.


Keep in mind that my argument here for including ID in textbooks does not depend on attacking evolution. I am ignoring versions of ID that attack Darwinian evolution. (Some feel that evolution is so strong as to "end the contest". I disagree with that level because it has not been observed actually happening on a large scale.)


The two biggest counterarguments I've encountered are:


  • ID is not science because it cannot be tested
  • Proponents of ID are biased by an agenda


Regarding not being "testable", such cannot be summarily ruled out. Just because we have not encountered or thought of a good test yet does not rule out the potential of testability. For example, an intelligent designer could have left clues or puzzles in the DNA of animals (including extinct ones to rule out current human interference).


Regarding religious bias, bias by itself does not make an idea invalid or non-scientific. If relativity were proposed by Adolph Hitler instead of Albert Einstein, would that make it less scientific or less useful as a theory? If a Darwin-influenced cult was formed with a stated goal of making sure evolution was taught in classrooms, would the new existence of such bias be a reason to label the theory of evolution "religion" and thus remove it? Science should test ideas, not human motives.


One of the problems with the evolution-versus-ID debate is the definition of science. I have encountered very "tight" definitions of science in various debates and fairly loose ones elsewhere. String Theory, worm-holes, reverse time-travel, and multiple universes of the Anthropic Principle are current ideas that many consider "science", yet so far appear difficult to test. In being difficult to test, ID is not alone.


In fact, other universes of the Anthropic Principle do not have to be detectable at all in order to be an anthropic "influence". The other "trials" may have been in the past or simply unreachable to us. Detection would be merely a bonus. This is similar to the DNA pattern detection hypothesis raised above. Lack of detection of other universes does not rule out anthropic influence. Similarly, lack of DNA intelligent pattern detection does not rule out ID.


Below are answers to various criticisms I have encountered over my suggestion. At the very bottom of this write-up is the working version of ID assumed here. A list of frequently-used abbreviations is also given below the definition.



1. Intelligent Design is infinitely malleable, and thus not testable and thus not science.


Being intelligent and perhaps powerful does necessarily make something infinitely powerful. The version of ID being used here (see bottom) does not presume supernatural ability. The Multiple Universe hypothesis also tends to be very open since it does not provide the source of the multiple universes, nor require that they necessarily be visible or detectable in any way.


Some suggest that the newer math can also be tweaked to match about anything new observed. Our ability to throw equations at the problem has perhaps exceeded our ability to test them. The eleven or so dimensions of String Theory (ST) are suspicious in this regard. Is a flexible personality significantly more difficult to test than flexible equations created by thousands of math professionals (personalities themselves)? It is simply another way to apply "intelligent design".


2. The other hard-to-test ideas like MU and String Theory are not currently in textbooks, so why should ID be?


As stated above, commonly raised questions should be anticipated and addressed in textbooks. ID or ID-like questions are common in the classroom. I have seen it myself. Sticking your head in the sand with regard to sticky issues is not the way to educate.


3. The other hard-to-test ideas like MU and String Theory are not considered "science" either by some because they have yet to be tested. Thus, using them to suggest ID should be included is misleading.


The definition of "science" appears to not yet have a consensus. Some use a tight definition, and some use a loose definition. Even if evolutionists tighten the "official" definition in order to exclude ID, the prior history of loose usage still stands (unless all the libraries burn down). It may appear disingenuous to change the definition of science just to win the ID textbook battle.


If "yet to be tested" is a reason to exclude an idea, then we would have to exclude the likes of relativity from being considered a "scientific idea" until the point of being tested. (The first test was an eclipse observation). To me that is plain silly. If relativity was not considered "science" until the moment it was tested, then what should it have been called before the test took place? It was not religion.


4. Real scientists spend time trying to test their ideas, not waste their time only promoting the ideas. ID proponents are not spending time testing ID.


This implies that science should grade on effort alone. Maybe it was okay for kindergarten, but science should focus on the ideas and evidence, not on effort being spent to obtain evidence.


What if ID proponents created a DNA Pattern Study Institute (see above) and staffed it with statistical exports sifting DNA for intelligence-looking patterns? (It could be considered the DNA version of SETI, a group that looks for alien radio and laser signals.) If ID is not science while its proponents are allegedly lazy, does that status change as soon as the institute starts it work? That is a really silly boundary of definition.


5. The effort of such a "DNA Pattern Institute" is bogus because their real agenda is put get their religious ideas in textbooks.


All people are biased to some extent. Is it not possible that a pro-evolutionist secretly wants to discredit religion as revenge for trauma caused by being discovered having pre-marital intercourse by his adolescent church group? The definition of science should not depend on such human motivations. Linking the definition of science to human emotions and motivations is asking for trouble. It would turn science into a soap opera. We don't know how to reverse engineer living neurons, so measuring motivations is barely more than an art. Again, science should focus on ideas, not what people are thinking.


6. String Theory at least involves math, but ID has no math.


Evolution used to not have significant math associated with it either and was still considered a scientific theory at that point, or at least a scientific idea. MU generally is not defended via math either. Having a mathematical model boosts a theory, or at least the testability of a theory, but is not a prerequisite to be called a scientific idea based on historical patterns.


7. Humans have such a strong bias toward proposals that involve intelligent intervention or interference that we should discard them.


The suggestion that any intelligence-based theory should be summarily thrown out is ridiculous. The laws of the universe don't activate or deactivate based on what humans think. It is even possible to accidentally be right. We may also be able to create our own life forms, virtual or real, one day. Summarily tossing all theories related to biased writers reminds me of the saying, "Just because you are paranoid does not necessarily mean they are not out to get you". I doubt any human being is bias-free anyhow.


8. Your working definition of Intelligent Design (below) assumes one can measure "complexity". There is no consensus way to measure complexity


That is perhaps true. However, all "origin of complexity" theories will be stumped by the same problem. If it is claimed that evolution can "increase complexity", then lack of a complexity metric will make such a claim hard to test. If one instead reduces evolution claims to merely "explaining change", then one could point to many other agents that also cause change; such as weather, radiation, lava, meteors, chemical reactions, rust, etc. Merely claiming to cause change is not very useful and does not help separate competing agents of change. Thus, evolution is potentially in the same boat. Further, the version of ID being tested here is not necessarily mutually-exclusive with evolution. See #11.


9. You compared SETI to looking for patterns in DNA. But SETI does not claim they can always know intelligent signals for sure when they find something.


Almost nothing in science is "for sure". There is strong evidence, medium evidence, and weak evidence (and everything in-between). I don't see why the definition of science should include the finding of only strong evidence. Nature's secrets are not always going to gush forth so easily. Searching for tough-to-find evidence is still part of science (although not always the wisest expenditure of effort).


Like mentioned above, scientific ideas such as MU are perhaps never even testable in the end. I think most would agree that finding the first million prime numbers right next to each other in DNA would at least be weak evidence for intelligent design or intelligent interference of some sort. Extra points if the prime numbers alternate with the digits for Pi (using a base appropriate to DNA). See also SETI and Intelligent Design Compared.


10. If we open the door to speculative ideas such as ID, then we will have to allow in ghosts and fairy tells.

This is a typical slippery-slope fallacy. I have heard ID-like questions raised in biology class, but never fairy tells (outside of jokes). If and when it does become a problem then the issue can be revisited. Until then, just relax.
11. Alien-based creation does not answer the question of "original complexity". It does not explain where the creating aliens came from.
I don't think it necessary to answer every question to answer one. Evolution does not explain original biogenesis and the origin of the universe either. Thus, it also "starts in the middle" to some extent. Science has not ruled out reverse time-travel such that it may be possible that beings traveled back in time and created themselves. This could be called "recursive creation". I agree it is a long-shot explanation, but still a possible hypothesis. Further, it is not necessarily mutually-exclusive with evolution. It may be merely "intelligent fiddling". (Note that many Christians are at home with the idea that God used evolution as a tool, making needed adjustments along the way.)

For more Q & A, see DNA-ID Wiki Excerpts.



Working Definition of Intelligent Design


Because there are various incarnations of ID floating around, I felt I should make clear the working version I am using here.


Intelligent Design (ID) is based on the observation that the only fully observed source of complex devices or machines is from intelligent designers: our fellow humans who engineered and built them. Thus, it is reasonable to suspect or at least inquire that complex life forms were perhaps also made by intelligent being(s).


The intelligent being(s) could be aliens, humans who came back in time, smart robots, being(s) with god-like powers, etc. ID does not actually attempt to identify a specific intelligence at this stage. Further, the intelligence does not have to be supernatural or omnipotent to qualify as a potential designer. In fact, the designer(s) may be sloppy, lazy, have limited skills, use trial-and-error, etc. (Some half-jokingly suggest I call this definition "Halfwit Design".) Further, it may not be mutually-exclusive with evolution. Beings may have adjusted DNA along the way for as-of-now unknown reasons.


If this version differs too much from those put forth by Bible proponents, then so be it. This version is based almost entirely on the observation of sources of complexity, not religion.


"Fully observed" means there is a clear human-observed record of the process creating complexity from basic building materials such as raw elements and commonly-occurring minerals and chemicals. Issues regarding measuring complexity are addressed in the question and answer section above.


Common Abbreviations Used Here:


  • ID - Intelligent Design hypothesis
  • Evo - Evolution theory based on Darwin's Natural Selection concept
  • MU - Multiple Universe hypothesis based on the Anthropic Principle
  • ST - String Theory, a model attempting explain physics at large and small scales


Copyright 2005 by Findy Services and B. Jacobs. All rights reserved. For personal use only unless permission obtained.