Is ID Falsifiable? Of Course It Is. Its Falsification Is Darwinism

Darwinist Steven Novella asks and answers a question central to the intelligent design/Darwinism debate: is intelligent design falsifiable? Dr. Novella predictably answers in the negative, and concludes that because ID cannot be falsified it is not science. I’ve long thought that the claim of unfalsifiablility of ID is one of the most bizarre claims of Darwinists. But, as we’ll see, there is method to the claim.
Let’s take a look at Dr. Novella’s arguments. I’ve condensed them, because he characteristically rambles. He first makes the bizarre claim that design in nature isn’t necessarily intelligent.

So the ID proponents are asking the wrong question – always a fatal problem in science. The question is not whether or not there is design in nature, but what is the nature of that design. Evolution is a bottom-up process whereby design and complexity emerge out of blind but non-random processes. “Intelligent” design, by contrast, is a top down process where the final result is known ahead of time by the designer and is achieved with purpose.

No. Design is always the result of intelligent agency — by definition. It’s always top-down. Design is a mental act. Complexity can arise without intelligent design, but complexity is not the same thing as design. All design arises by intelligent agency, because that’s how design is defined. Consider the definition of design:

v. de•signed, de•sign•ing, de•signs
a. To conceive or fashion in the mind; invent: design a good excuse for not attending the conference.
b. To formulate a plan for; devise: designed a marketing strategy for the new product.
2. To plan out in systematic, usually graphic form: design a building; design a computer program.
3. To create or contrive for a particular purpose or effect: a game designed to appeal to all ages.
4. To have as a goal or purpose; intend.
5. To create or execute in an artistic or highly skilled manner.
1. To make or execute plans.
2. To have a goal or purpose in mind.
3. To create designs.

Design is always the product of a mind. There is no such thing as ‘bottom-up’ design. Design always has purpose, and purpose is always a hallmark of intelligent agency. When things happen in nature without intelligent cause, they are not design. They may be uncanny, extraordinary, astonishing, but without intelligent cause, they are not designed. As Richard Dawkins wrote: “Biology is the study of things that appear designed, but aren’t.” Even Richard Dawkins understands the distinction. Dr. Novella not only struggles with the science. He struggles with definitions.
Dr. Novella goes on to draw an astonishing analogy:

There are many analogies we can draw to illuminate this difference. For example, a city that grew over decades without any central planning, but based upon the decisions and actions of individuals acting in their own interest is like an evolved city. An ID city, however, is one planned and mapped out ahead of time, by a committee, corporation, or some other body. In the evolved city there will still be design — streets and utilities will follow residences and business, for example. Shops will tend to pop up and survive to meet the demand. But it will be messy, with lots of redundancy, with abandoned buildings where neighborhoods collapsed or business failed. Streets would likely not be optimally arranged. A planned city, however, would look vastly different — more clean, purposeful, and direct. The streets would be laid out in a deliberate way — one that could not have emerged spontaneously with use.

There are no ‘evolved’ cities. All cities are designed, in that they are the product of human minds. Not all designed aspects of cities are carefully designed, of course, and not all designs are coordinated with other designs. But shops and streets don’t ‘pop up’; they are put there by conscious agents acting for purposes. And the changes that take place in cities that are not the product of intelligent design, such as erosion, wear and tear on infrastructure, and so on, are changes that would never be mistaken for intelligent design. You can tell the difference between architecture and grafitti, on one hand, and rust on the other.
Dr. Novella’s blunder is an example of ‘Berra’s Blunder’. Tim Berra is a Darwinist biologist who, in his 1990 book Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, used the example of changes over time in Corvettes to illustrate the enormous power of natural selection. Of course, Dr. Berra’s example was a designed change in the automobiles with time. Corvettes don’t ‘evolve’ by natural selection. They are the product of very intelligent designers.
It’s ironic that neither Dr. Novella nor Dr. Berra, in searching for an analogy to Darwinist ‘design,’ could think of a single example of design that wasn’t the product of a mind. Darwinists fall into the trap of Berra’s Blunder often. It’s not simply because they don’t understand the issues, although that no doubt plays a role. Darwinists genuinely have trouble drawing analogies between natural functional biological complexity and undesigned non-biological structures, because most biological complexity is analogous to intelligently designed artifacts. Living things are full of DNA codes and nanotechnology that in any other area of science would be recognized as artifacts of intelligent design. Berra’s Blunder is almost inevitable for a Darwinist trying to find analogies to biology. Biology is replete with hallmarks of intelligent design.
Next Dr. Novella meanders through common descent and irreducible complexity, claiming with tangential anecdotes that science provides evidence against ID. He argues, in effect, that intelligent design is contradicted by the evidence, and is untestable as well. You can’t make this up. It’s witless.
His final argument is that ID is a ‘negative’ theory, defined by what it denies:

The notion of ID falsifiability also has a deeper logical problem — that ID is defined entirely but what it isn’t — namely evolution.

Here Dr. Novella gets to the root of the issue, and characteristically does so in a way that destroys his own argument. Here’s how. Darwin’s theory is this: all natural biological complexity arose by the mechanism of random non-teleological heritable variation and non-teleological natural selection. Intelligent design theory is this: some aspects of natural biological complexity show evidence of teleology. By teleology, I mean purpose, intelligent agency — design. It is on the question of evidence for intelligent design in biology that the ID-Darwinism debate turns.
Thus ID and Darwinism are merely two opposite conclusions drawn from the same question: is there teleology in biology? If there is, ID is true. If there isn’t, Darwinism is true. The falsification of intelligent design is Darwinism. The falsification of Darwinism is intelligent design. Either biology shows evidence of intelligent agency, or it doesn’t. Either intelligent design and Darwinism are both science, or neither is science. If you can’t test the hypothesis of intelligent agency in biology, then you can’t test Darwinism, and Darwinism is immune from evidence and must simply be accepted on faith.
Darwinism is intelligent design’s doppelganger. So why would Darwinists like Dr. Novella claim that ID isn’t falsifiable, when their own theory is the falsification of ID? As it turns out, there’s a method and a reason. If ID isn’t falsifiable, then the question of design in biology can’t be adjudicated by science, and this renders Darwinism immune from evidence. Darwinism must then be accepted on faith.
The truth is that Darwinists aren’t concerned that intelligent design isn’t falsifiable. They’re concerned that it isn’t false.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.