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Fifteen Empirically Testable Claims/Predictions of Intelligent Design

By CSC Fellows

In his Dover vs. Kitzmiller opinion, Judge John Jones incorrectly asserted that intelligent design is not empirically testable. Below are fifteen testable intelligent design claims–most of them also predictions even in a narrow sense of the term. These are followed by further discussion, explanation, and links.

1. Large amounts of novel, functional information (over 500 bits) will not accumulate as the result of purposeless material processes. See William Dembski’s Cambridge Univeristy Press monograph, The Design Inference. Conversely, everywhere a large amount of novel, functional information is found in which its origin can be traced definitively, the information will always turn out to have originated from an intelligent cause. See Stephen Meyer’s “DNA by Design.”

2. If attempts to explain the origin of irreducibly complex structures by reference to various co-option hypotheses were to succeed, they would do so only by presupposing the existence and function of other irreducibly complex systems.

3. The functional sequences of amino acids within protein sequence space will be found to be extremely rare rather than common. Similarly, the functional sequences of amino acids within protein sequence space will be found to be discontinuous (isolated from one another) and not bridgable via a series of small, undirected, functional genetic mutations. This rarity and isolation provide negative evidence against Neo-Darwinism and, because these two qualities mirror human language, they also provide positive evidence for intelligent design.

4. Additional study of apparent dysteleology (i.e., poor design) in the vertebrate retina will reveal functional reasons for the design. Several such reasons have recently been identified by Ayoub, Denton, and others.

5. Future fossil finds will confirm (and do nothing to efface) the top down pattern of sudden appearance, morphological isolation, and stasis in the fossil record, in which major groups of organisms appear suddenly in the fossil record and remain distinct from each other in their morphological and anatomical structure. Note that this pattern both conforms to the historical pattern of human technological innovation (positive evidence for design) and contradicts modern evolutionary theory’s prediction of a branching tree of life, both in its Neo-Darwinian and punctuationalist forms.

6. The use of reverse engineering (in which complex systems are assumed to be the product of actual design) by molecular and cell biologists will prove to be a fruitful approach to discovering new functional structures
within the cell.

7. The use of reverse engineering to diagnose the malfunction of molecular machines will prove to be fruitful in discovering the causes of certain diseases (See Wells, Rivista Biologia).

8. The theory of intelligent design coupled with the constraints principle of mechanical engineering predicts that systems possessing a high degree of functional integration or irreducible complexity will manifest discernable limitations in their ability to change their structures in response to environmental or experimentally induced
stresses (limitations that contradict predictions inherent to Darwinian theory).

9. Intelligent design predicts that phylogenetic analysis of different biomacromolecules in different organisms will produce conflicting phylogenetic trees.

10. Investigation of the properties of Ribozyme (RNA catalysts) will reveal a dearth of enzymatic functions, making clear that RNA could not have performed all the enzymatic functions of modern proteins and all the information storage functions of modern nucleic acids at the same time, (contrary to the predictions of the RNA world hypothesis). (The RNA world hypothesis is the main theoretical rival to the design hypothesis as an explanation for the origin of the first life.)

11. Investigation of the logic of biological information processing systems would reveal the use of design strategies and design logic that mirrors the strategy and logic used in information processing systems that have been intelligently designed by software and hardware engineers (positive evidence for design).

12. ID predicts that genetic algorithms purporting to simulate the production of novel information (Avida, etc.) will fail because they lack biological realism and relevance. For instance, they may impute to natural selection foresight that it does not possess in nature.

13. Design theorists Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards argue that there is an emerging pattern that the range of conditions suited for advanced life correlates with the range of conditions suitable for scientific discovery, a pattern that purely material explanations for the origin of life and the universe do not explain but which makes good sense if the world is the product of intelligent design. The Privileged Planet hypothesis predicts that astrobiologists will not find a highly habitable planet that is badly suited for making a wide range of scientific discoveries. Conversely, they predict that if astrobiologists do find a planet optimized for habitability, that planet will also serve as an excellent platform for making a range of scientific discoveries.

14. Gonzalez and Richards write: “We suggest in Chapter One that conditions that produce perfect solar eclipses also contribute to the habitability of a planetary environment. Thus, if intelligent extraterrestrial beings exist, they probably enjoy good-to-perfect solar eclipses. If we were to find complex, intelligent, indigenous life on a planet without a largish natural satellite, however, this plank in our argument would collapse.” (Privileged Planet Pg. 314)

15. Gonzalez and Richards also assert that, according to their argument, all complex life in our universe “will almost certainly be based on carbon. Find a non-carbon-based life form, and one of our presuppositions collapses” (Privileged Planet, Pg. 314).

Philosophers of science now know that “prediction” is too narrow a criterion to describe all scientific theorizing. Empirical testability is the more appropriate criterion. However, intelligent design arguments currently in play do also involve testable predictions.

It also should be noted that “empirical testability,” “falsifiability,” and “confirmability” aren’t synonyms. “Empirical testability” is the genus, of which falsification and confirmation are species. Something is empirically testable when it is either falsifiable, confirmable, or both. Moreover, something can be confirmable but not falsifiable, as with the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) or the existence of a cosmic designer. Both of these claims are still empirically testable. At the same time, arguments like Behe’s are also falsifiable: merely describe a realistic, continuous Darwinian pathway from simple ancestor to bacterial flagellum. The flagellum might still have been designed, but Behe’s proposed means of detecting design in the flagellum would have been falsified.

Additionally, recent work in the philosophy of science has revealed the degree to which high level scientific theories tend to resist simple refutation. As a result, Karl Popper’s criterion of “falsifiability,” which most commentators seem to presuppose, was rejected by most philosophers of science decades ago as a litmus test for science. Nevertheless, it’s certainly a virtue of scientific proposals — and intelligent design claims specifically–to be able to say what evidence would count against it.

For an in-depth discussion of predictions, testability, and the methodologies of Darwinism and intelligent design, see philosopher of science Stephen Meyer’s essay here.

Also contra Judge Jones and ACLU expert witness Kenneth Miller, much of the evidence that design theorists marshal involves positive evidence for intelligent design, not just negative evidence against modern evolutionary theory. For further discussion of ID, testability, the bacterial flagellum’s role in the Dover trial, and the positive evidence for intelligent design, go here.

For a discussion of some of the predictions of modern evolutionary theory that have been disconfirmed, see this essay by Roland Hirsch. To be fair, most predictions of high level scientific theories, particularly in the historical sciences, strengthen a theory if confirmed and weaken the theory if disconfirmed. It’s rarely a matter of a prediction single-handedly placing a theory beyond doubt (if confirmed) or discrediting it beyond all hope (if disconfirmed).

This is why, for instance, Meyer doesn’t merely point to Darwinism’s failure to uncover a rich body of Cambrian animal precursors. Instead, in his peer-reviewed essay he marshals evidence from several areas to discredit the Neo-Darwinian account of the Cambrian explosion (Meyer also complements this with positive evidence for intelligent design, also from a variety of sources: See especially “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang.”)

For a discussion of predictions in keeping with a purely material account for the universe see The Privileged Planet. The book discusses several such predictions that have been dashed by 20th century discoveries in astronomy, physics, astrobiology, and cosmology.

Jonathan Witt

Executive Editor, Discovery Institute Press and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Witt, PhD, is Executive Editor of Discovery Institute Press and a senior fellow and senior project manager with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. His latest book is Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design (DI Press, 2018) written with Finnish bioengineer Matti Leisola. Witt has also authored co-authored Intelligent Design Uncensored, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, and The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Witt is the lead writer and associate producer for Poverty, Inc., winner of the $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award and recipient of over 50 international film festival honors.