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Notes on Frequently Unanswered Questions about Intelligent Design

Theory

Testability of ID

William Dembski's essay, Is Intelligent Design Testable? purports to address the question of whether ID is testable. However, the only test Dembski proposes is the following, buried under a mound of special pleading, handwaving, and excuses for the lack of research into ID:

If it could be shown that biological systems like the bacterial flagellum that are wonderfully complex, elegant, and integrated could have been formed by a gradual Darwinian process (which by definition is non-telic), then intelligent design would be falsified on the general grounds that one doesn't invoke intelligent causes when purely natural causes will do.

This is basically a god of the gaps argument: until such time as mainstream science explains everything, ID is a viable explanation for the remaining mysteries. One could just as easily say, "If it could be shown that biological systems like the bacterial flagellum could have been formed by a gradual Darwinian process, then the Flying Spaghetti Monster would be falsified."

In this article, Dembski says that "Darwinism" is not falsifiable either, as if this were a point in favor of ID. Indeed, statements such as "such-and-such structure evolved naturally" seems difficult to falsify. But more specific statements, such as "polar bears evolved from North American brown bears between 12 and 13 million years ago by a mutation that prevented the activation of gene XYZ-3 during the sixth week of gestation" are obviously falsifiable.

But ID proponents never suggest any such specific predictions for ID, because to do so would mean admitting that the designer is God. And they can't do that and still have ID taught in US public schools.

Research

Peer-Reviewed Papers

The Discovery Institute has a list of publications supportive of Intelligent design. As of this writing (Aug. 2005) this list includes 32 publications since 1985. However, this includes 7 books (3 of which are not even claimed to be peer-reviewed), and 5 articles published in philosophy journals, rather than scientific research journals.

In contrast, a PubMed search over the same period for "origin of life[title]" yields 143 articles (including 33 reviews); "transitional sequence" yields 779 articles (including 41 reviews); "evolution[title] AND development[title]" yields 474 articles (including 166 reviews).

In short, judging by the number of publications, ID appears to be moribund, rather than a revolutionary and vibrant area of research. I believe it is incumbent upon ID proponents to explain why ID hasn't produced more papers.

It is not inconceivable that the scientific establishment has an anti-ID bias that prevents papers on ID from being published. The best way to demonstrate this would be to show how many papers on ID have been submitted, and make them available online, along with the rejection notices.

Suboptimal Design

In Intelligent Design is not Optimal Design, William Dembski offers several rationales for suboptimal design:

This paper does not explain suboptimal design. A few paragraphs say that since ID "theory" refuses to say who the designer is, it has nothing to say about suboptimal design one way or the other. The bulk of the article is a tirade against scientists who use suboptimal design as an argument against ID, trying to turn it into a theological argument, the Problem of Evil. Finally, he explains suboptimal design as God's original creation having been perverted, presumably by the Fall and Original Sin.

Throughout, Dembski fails to explain how ID theory predicts suboptimal design, how it fits in with the rest of the theory, or what it says about the nature and abilities of the designer. So this paper must qualify as a non-response.

Critiques

The Discovery Institute's list includes: