Is Intelligent Design Falsifiable?

Zastavski.Watch.Nature___Other__039072_A common objection to Intelligent Design is that it fails to rise to the level of science, sinking instead on the weight of it’s unfalsifiability. Whatever other objections might be mustered against the scientitific status of ID, this one doesn’t have to be one of them.

So is Intelligent Design falsifiable? It depends on what demands you make for “falsification.” Science broadly operates in inductive inferences with a subtext of logic and philosophy which can deal in deduction. Most of the interesting conclusions of science have been through the imperfect but practical method of experimental verification. If someone demands strict logically DEDUCTIVE verification or falsification, that’s only sometimes if ever true of natural science. If someone demands strong corroboration of a theory by INDUCTIVE verification or falsification, well now we can start doing some science. ID fits pretty well here since we cannot test a theory that “X happens by unguided processes” without also testing AGAINST it’s opposite, “X happens by guided processes.” It is literally impossible to test the notion of “unguided change” without also testing for “guided change” at the same time. In the terminology of logic, these two statements have an obverse relation (All X is unguided —> [obversion]–> No X is guided). This kind of logical inference is a direct inference, unmediated by syllogistic premises (i.e.,Premise 1: “X is Y,” premise 2: “Y is Z,” Conclusion: therefore X is Z). Syllogisms are indirect inferences, since they require more than one premise before a conclusion can be drawn.

If we had to break all this down into brass tacks, you can offer some concrete examples to show how ID is falsifiable. Under the premise of ID you can propose and test several expectations of biological organisms. You don’t have to name the designer, or start talking about a designer like it were a personal God just to be able to test ID. To get into the specifics about a designer would be more akin to theology than natural science anyway. Some examples ID theses might be, “the incidence of infertility will rise in the samples of microbes which were forced to mutate by external factors.” This is not a “strong/hard” proof–suggesting high probability for a designer; it’s too thin a line of evidence to provide overwhelming  support for such a huge claim as ID; but it’s nonetheless testing something that one can predict if certain expressions of ID were true, and which would not necessarily be expected if ID were false.

A more historical example might be how scientists under the expectations from ID favor hypotheses where biological assemblages will turn out to be remarkably functional with little waste; what we could expect with a designer and would not expect as often or as much with unguided nature. So, we can look at the human genome under the assumptions of evolution and see the confusing “letters” of our chronomosomes as being rife with “junk” leftover from past evolutionary stages. By that expectation we can be led to treat as “gibberish” what is actually a language we hadn’t bothered to understand. If our scientific assumptions bias us there, we are led away from the best science because of our evolutionary and materilalistic assumptions whereas ID would bias us towards truth, disposing us more naturally to how things really are.

In summary, I’d suggest that ID is testable, though unfortunately it’s not often as directly and deeply testable as we might like. And it further suggests legitimate methods and modes of testing that can follow a different exploratory course than evolutionary biology does. We can approach biology for insights on reverse engineering–a concept that’s unfit/misleading if there’s no engineer but only accidents. We can study DNA for clues into codes, code-breaking, computer language, etc.–even if we know that our technological and semantic uses all imply mental ability. By supposing “purposes” in nature, we have a wider range of hypotheses we can entertain in our experiments.  Moreover, we can treat the almost inescapable teleological language (purpose-language wherever it may occur) as real and not just some “useful fiction” or mere “heuristic device” (teaching tool). All of this suggests that the ID theorist can be common sensical and realistic in his approach to science instead of being maligned and marginalized as if his ID were magic.


8 thoughts on “Is Intelligent Design Falsifiable?

  1. Most of what we think and believe is not falsifiable. Why are we obsessed with falsifiablity? The reason is we want absolute certainty, we want to stand on the rock.
    As children our parents are our rock and security and then our peers.
    Many scientists feel they stand on the rock of science, it is their hope and they believe the hope of us all.
    This is particularly important as most of us sense a world of chaos in human affairs.
    In seeking the rock we forget all else, unless we support each other in a hostile universe all may be lossed.

  2. Unless ID proponents are willing to exclude the possibility that the Designer is an omnipotent deity, I don’t see how ID could be falsified. Can you suggest a piece of evidence that could not have been created by such a deity?

    In order to demonstrate that ID is falsifiable you first need a testable hypothesis. Since ID doesn’t have anything to say about the identity of the Designer, the mechanism of design or a time point when the design supposedly happened, the ID proposition basically boils down to “something did something at some point”. It really doesn’t get much more unfalsifiable than that.

    1. So, did you read the post? If you are saying that ID is unfalsifiable then you are implicitly saying that unguided change is likewise unfalsifiable. Do you grant that evolution is unfalsifiable? If not, then please address the content of the post and show how these two theses are not intertwined.

      1. The theory of evolution would indeed be unfalsifiable if it made the claim that the process is unguided, which of course it doesn’t. Like all scientific theories, it’s neutral towards claims of the existence or non-existence of supernatural agents, for the simple reason that science doesn’t have the means to verify or disprove such claims.

        What the theory says is that changes in allelic frequencies within a poulation over time (i.e. the observable phenomenon of evolution) can be explained by mutation, natural selection and genetic drift. It also says that all living organisms on the planet share a common ancestry. This is what the evidence points to. If you assert that there are other causes for the observed evidence, then the onus is obviously on you to present evidence to support your claim.

        As for your your comment about the level of specificity/detail, I’m not sure I get your point. For a hypothesis to be falsifiable, it must make predictions that can be put to the test by observation or experimentation. I’m not aware of any such predictions derived from the ID proposition but if they exist, could you point to any research done in order to test them?

    2. Also, you did not show a level of of specificity/detail required for a theory to be counted as “falsifiable.” I’m not sure a set measure can ever work as that criterion since scientists all the time address their work towards broad, sweeping, and often indistinct theses.

      1. Of course the ToE posits natural selection, it’s a demonstrable effect. What it cannot posit is that for which there is no evidence. What evidence would demonstrate that there is no supernatural influence on evolution? Likewise, what evidence would demonstrate that aliens aren’t influencing evolution by some unknown technology? This is the problem of proving the negative.

        We can think of any number of causes that cannot be disproved but that of course doesn’t mean we should include them all in our theories. If we can’t study them, they’re not part of scientific inquiry – that’s the simple conclusion of methodological naturalism, which is the basis of the scientific method. Suggested causes that have no positive evidence in their support are simply disregarded until any such evidence comes to light.

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