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Politicized Author Attacks Intelligent Design

Author Chris Mooney made a politicized attack in today’s Seattle Post Intelligencer that intelligent design bucks the scientific method. Mooney, who is speaking in Seattle about something he calls the “Republican War on Science,” appears to not understand intelligent design theory.

Mooney was quoted saying to the reporter:

“Your buddies there at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, for example (an organization that favors “intelligent design” over standard evolutionary science), are not arguing about evidence that can be tested,” Mooney said. “They are attacking the entire scientific method.” (Chris Mooney, quoted in Author says GOP is waging war on scientific inquiry, by Tom Paulson)

The funny thing is that whenever I hear this objection made, very rarely does the challenger provide any detailed discussion or reference to validate the claim. Mooney’s unreferenced and undetailed assertion makes me suspect he’s pretty uninformed so that he’s probably just a Type II Darwinist Critic. (Although Type II Darwinist Critics can rack up culpability for their statements if they do a lot of public preaching against ID without having ever read the primary ID literature.)

Anyways, the reporter printed Mooney’s attack on the Discovery Institute without having contacted Discovery to get any kind of a response or perspective on Mooney’s comments. So here goes.

Intelligent design is indeed testable, despite what critics (who incidentally often leave out references or discussions of the details of why ID isn’t testable) say.

Intelligent design theorists begin developing their theory with observations about how intelligent agents act when designing, to help them understand how to recognize and detect design. One of the primary observations made by ID theorists is that intelligent agents tend to take many parts and arrange them in highly specified and complex patterns which perform a specific function. For example, CSC Director and ID theorist Stephen C. Meyer writes:

“Agents can arrange matter with distant goals in mind. In their use of language, they routinely ‘find’ highly isolated and improbable functional sequences amid vast spaces of combinatorial possibilities.” (Stephen C. Meyer, “The Cambrian Information Explosion,” Debating Design, pg. 388 (Dembski and Ruse eds., Cambridge University Press 2004)

“Experience teaches that information-rich systems … invariably result from intelligent causes, not naturalistic ones. … Finding the best explanation, however, requires invoking causes that have the power to produce the effect in question. When it comes to information, we know of only one such cause. For this reason, the biology of the information age now requires a new science of design.” (Stephen C. Meyer, “The Explanatory Power of Design,” in Mere Creation, pg. 140 (William A. Dembski ed., InterVarsity Press 1998))

“Indeed, in all cases where we know the causal origin of ‘high information content,’ experience has shown that intelligent design played a causal role.” (Stephen C. Meyer, DNA and Other Designs)

This ability to think with the “end in mind” and create high levels of information is a common characteristic of intelligent agents, allowing them to choose from a wide range of possible options to find a highly complex and specified solution to a given problem. Thus, intelligent agents can be said to predictably create high levels of complex and specified information when they act.

Such observations about intelligent agents this can then be turned into predictions of what we should find had an intelligent agent been at work in the past. Meyer’s observations could lead us to the prediction that high information content machine-like irreducibly complex structures will be found. (Irreducible complexity is a special case of specified complexity.)

Test for the presence of such irreducibly complex structures in biology is straightforward. “Reverse engineering,” “knockout experiments,” or theoretical calculations all permit one to assess whether irreducible complexity is present in a biological structure. All one has to do is tweak a structure—whether actually or theoretically—and determine if it still works. If it stops working with every “tweak,” then one is beginning to support the conclusion that it is irreducibly complex. If it still works, then one can continue working and possibly discover that there is an irreducibly complex core.

So, intelligent design easily moves from observation, to prediction, to experiment which can test if a structure was designed. In this way, intelligent design uses the scientific method (i.e. observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion) to make its claims:

i. Observation:

The ways that intelligent agents act can be observed in the natural world and described. When intelligent agents act, it is observed that they produce high levels of “complex-specified information” (CSI). CSI is basically a scenario which is unlikely to happen (making it complex), and conforms to a pattern (making it specified). Language and machines are good examples of things with much CSI. From our understanding of the world, high levels of CSI are always the product of intelligent design.

ii. Hypothesis:

If an object in the natural world was designed, then we should be able to examine that object and find the same high levels of CSI in the natural world as we find in human-designed objects.

iii. Experiment:

We can examine biological structures to test if high CSI exists. When we look at natural objects in biology, we find many machine-like structures which are specified, because they have a particular arrangement of parts which is necessary for them to function, and complex because they have an unlikely arrangement of many interacting parts. These biological machines are “irreducibly complex,” for any change in the nature or arrangement of these parts would destroy their function. Irreducibly complex structures cannot be built up through an alternative theory, such as Darwinian evolution, because Darwinian evolution requires that a biological structure be functional along every small-step of its evolution. “Reverse engineering” of these structures (often using knockout experiments or theoretical studies) shows that they cease to function if changed even slightly.

iv. Conclusion:

Because they exhibit high levels of CSI, a quality known to be produced only by intelligent design, and because there is no other known mechanism to explain the origin of these “irreducibly complex” biological structures, we can tentatively infer that they were intelligently designed (subject, of course, to findings from further data).

Similar methods can also be used to make predictions for ID in paleontology, systematics, and cellular biology (particularly with regards to studying functionality of DNA). But I’ll leave those discussions for future Evolution News posts when Darwinists repeat this unreferenced claim. (See for a sneak preview).

A final point about how ID uses the scientific method is that ID theory limits its claims to that which can be observed, and thus stays within the scope of the scientific method by refusing to speculate about metaphysical questions, like the identity of the designer. See The Darwinist Misinformation Train for more information on this topic.

I don’t know much about Republicans, but it seems clear that those promoting ID advocate a testable theory which relies upon the scientific method to make its claims.

Any questions?

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



__editedChris Mooney