Intelligent Design Icon Intelligent Design
Physics, Earth & Space Icon Physics, Earth & Space

The Double Standard for Intelligent Design and Testability

Casey Luskin

Many proponents of intelligent design (ID) have argued for design of the cosmos based upon the highly improbable fine-tuning of our universe to permit the existence of advanced forms of life. Skeptics of cosmic-design often cite the possibility that there are infinite universes, or “multiverses,” where our universe just happened to win a cosmic lottery and get the right conditions for life. An infinite number of universes, they argue, reduces the odds that ours just “happened to get it right,” because it shows that some universe was just bound to eventually get the right conditions for life. We wouldn’t be here if ours hadn’t won. They argue this rationale provides the probabilistic resources to overcome a design inference based upon highly improbable cosmic-fine-tuning.

However, a Nature article from earlier this year noted that this “multiverse” hypothesis is not testable:

Since the early 1980s, some cosmologists have argued that multiple universes could have formed during a period of cosmic inflation that preceded the Big Bang. More recently, string theorists have calculated that there could be 10500 universes, which is more than the number of atoms in our observable Universe. Under these circumstances, it becomes more reasonable to assume that several would turn out like ours. It’s like getting zillions and zillions of darts to throw at the dart board, Susskind says. “Surely, a large number of them are going to wind up in the target zone.” And of course, we exist in our particular Universe because we couldn’t exist anywhere else. It’s an intriguing idea with just one problem, says Gross: “It’s impossible to disprove.” Because our Universe is, almost by definition, everything we can observe, there are no apparent measurements that would confirm whether we exist within a cosmic landscape of multiple universes, or if ours is the only one. And because we can’t falsify the idea, Gross says, it isn’t science.

(Geoff Brumfiel, “Outrageous Fortune,” Nature, Vol 439:10-12 (January 5, 2006).)

National Academy of Sciences member Leonard Susskind was given print-space–in fact he had a highlighted box-quote–saying that we should not reject the multi-verse hypothesis on the grounds that it isn’t testable. Nature reports:

Susskind, too, finds it “deeply, deeply troubling” that there’s no way to test the principle. But he is not yet ready to rule it out completely. “It would be very foolish to throw away the right answer on the basis that it doesn’t conform to some criteria for what is or isn’t science,” he says.

(Geoff Brumfiel, “Outrageous Fortune,” Nature, Vol 439:10-12 (January 5, 2006) (emphasis added).)

Many scientists challenge ID on the grounds that it allegedly is not testable. Plainly, the multiple universe hypothesis isn’t testable. And yet somehow you see prominent physicists like Leonard Susskind arguing that, even if it isn’t testable, “It would be very foolish to throw away the right answer on the basis that it doesn’t conform to some criteria for what is or isn’t science.” If an ID proponent made such a claim, you’d never see it printed in Nature.

Regardless of this double-standard, I strongly believe ID is testable (see here and here). In fact, Jonathan Wells humorously comments about the state of Darwinist arguments on this point in his new book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, saying Darwinists criticisms “collaps[e] into a contradiction: ID isn’t science because it isn’t testable, and, besides, it has been tested and proven false.” (pg. 140)

But when critics claim ID isn’t testable, has the scientific community given ID proponents the courtesy given to Dr. Susskind? Can you imagine Nature affirmatively quoting someone like William Dembski or Jonathan Wells saying, “It would be very foolish to throw away the right answer on the basis that it doesn’t conform to some criteria for what is or isn’t science”? If the answer is “no,” then maybe there is a double standard in the journals when it comes to ID and testability. Perhaps untestable theories are acceptable to Nature when they can challenge intelligent design, but are not acceptable when they support design.

[Note: originally this post said Dr. Susskind was a Nobel Laureate, but that was a mistake and I deleted that incorrect statement. My apologies.]


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, 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.