The opponents of Intelligent Design have recently been trying to slither out of a logical dilemma they have created for themselves. Their problem is that they make two mutually exclusive claims: First that ID is not science, and, second, that ID makes false claims.
The primary reason opponents say that ID is not science is because it doesn’t make falsifiable claims. But if it doesn’t make falsifiable claims, then it can’t be said to have made claims that have been found false. Yet this is exactly what they charge.
Opponents of ID have done logical contortions of extraordinary dexterity to get out of this dilemma, but they only seem to land themselves in further contradiction. This contradictory attack on ID is on full display in Judge John Jones arguments in Dover vs. Kitzmiller, the decision that has been hailed by ID’s detractors as the end of ID.
In the Dover decision, Judge Jones unwittingly lays a trap for himself, and then spends a good part of his decision falling into it. On p. 64 of the ruling, Jones gives three reasons for determining that ID is not science:
- 1. It permits supernatural causation
- 2. It assumes a “contrived dualism” in the argument for irreducible complexity
- 3. Its negative arguments against evolution (like irreducible complexity) have been “refuted by the scientific community”
In all of this discussion, there is a particular view of how to demarcate science from non-science. It is philosopher Karl Popper’s demarcation criterion: that in order for something to be science it has to be falsifiable, or testable. We see this in the following comment by Jones:
Accordingly, the purported positive argument for ID does not satisfy the ground rules of science which require testable hypotheses based upon natural explanations. (3:101-03 (Miller)). ID is reliant upon forces acting outside of the natural world, forces that we cannot see, replicate, control or test, which have produced changes in this world. While we take no position on whether such forces exist, they are simply not testable by scientific means and therefore cannot qualify as part of the scientific process or as a scientific theory. (p. 82, emphasis added]
There are a lot of assumptions behind this argument, but it is in his statement of the second point where Jones sets himself up. He says that the argument for irreducible complexity is “central to ID”. Otherwise, why would he include it in a discussion of whether ID is science? And, in reason 3., he also says it has been “refuted”: in other words, falsified. But if the argument for irreducible complexity is, as Jones later determines, falsified, then ID is falsified, since irreducible complexity is “central to ID”.
But if ID is not falsifiable, as he says in the first part of the argument, then (if you assume Popper’s criterion) it is not science–and it cannot therefore be falsified. So how does Jones get around the fact that he says both that ID is not science because it can’t be falsified, and that an argument “central to ID” has been falsified?
His method is simply to skip back and forth between the two arguments hoping the reader will not notice.
He says first that the truth or falsity of arguments for ID are irrelevant:
After a searching review of the record and applicable case law, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. (p. 64)
Judge Jones then goes on an extended argument explaining why he thinks the argument for irreducible complexity fails (the argument for which essentially consists of the fact that lots of evolutionists say so). But then, obviously cognizant of the inherent contradiction in his argument (that the court takes no position on the truth of the arguments for ID and that it does), he points out that irreducible complexity is an argument against evolution, not an argument for Intelligent Design:
Irreducible complexity is a negative argument against evolution, not proof of design, a point conceded by defense expert Professor Minnich. (2:15 (Miller); 38:82 (Minnich) (irreducible complexity “is not a test of intelligent design; it’s a test of evolution”). [p. 68, emphasis added]
He says this, in fact, in several places:
As irreducible complexity is only a negative argument against evolution, it is refutable and accordingly testable, unlike ID, by showing that there are intermediate structures with selectable functions that could have evolved into the allegedly irreducibly complex systems. [p. 76, emphasis added]
Jones’ argument is that the alleged failure of irreducible complexity can be charged to ID’s account only if irreducible complexity is a part of Intelligent Design theory itself, since ID itself is not science and therefore not falsifiable. And yet, if it isn’t a part of ID, then it obviously cannot undermine the theory itself.
Importantly, however, the fact that the negative argument of irreducible complexity is testable does not make testable the argument for ID. [p. 76, emphasis added]
But how can this be if irreducible complexity is “central to ID”? He wants to use the alleged refutation of irreducible complexity against Intelligent Design, but he doesn’t want to do it at the cost of his argument that it isn’t science. And he does this by employing an explicit contradiction: that irreducible complexity is both central to ID and not central to it!
He then complicates his position even further:
…[E]ven if irreducible complexity had not been rejected, it still does not support ID as it is merely a test for evolution, not design. [p. 79, emphasis added]
In other words, what Jones is saying is that the falsity of irreducible complexity can be held against ID since it is “central” to it, but that, even if it were true, it wouldn’t count in favor of it, since it is not central to it.
It is a clever bit of sophistry: if irreducible complexity is false, then it counts against it, but if it is true, then it doesn’t count for it!
If anyone was in any doubt as to whether the debate over Intelligent Design was rigged, Jones dispels it here. In the duel over Intelligent Design, the opponents are the only ones allowed a loaded gun.
How can Jones justify this? The short answer is that he can’t–not, at least, if he wants to maintain any kind of rational credibility. But if it is not clear how he can do this and remain within the bounds of reason, it is clear why he does it.
ID is science insofar as irreducible complexity and other similar arguments are part of it, and unfalsifiable insofar as they are not. Jones knows this, but wants to have his cake and eat it anyway.
If opponents of ID want to hold irreducible complexity against ID, then they will have to abandon their argument that ID is not science. And if they want to preserve their argument that ID is not science, they will have to stop using arguments against irreducible complexity against ID.
It can’t be comforting for opponents of Intelligent Design to know that the decision they all now point to as the death blow for ID contains a blatant contradiction. And arguments that contain contradictions don’t kill anything but themselves.