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A Response to Questions from a Biology Teacher: How Do We Test Intelligent Design?

A biology educator recently wrote me asking how we test intelligent design using the scientific method, how ID is falsifiable, and how ID explains patterns we observe in nature. These are very common questions that we receive all the time from teachers, students, and interested members of the public, and they’re usually legitimate, sincere, and thoughtful questions. In this case, they certainly appeared to be such, and below I post a slightly modified version of my response to the teacher, withholding any information about the teacher to protect his/her identity:

Dear [Snip],

Greetings and thanks for your e-mail. ID is most definitely testable and falsifiable. It uses the scientific method and explains many patterns we observe in nature.

Let’s start with how ID uses the scientific method. The scientific method is commonly described as a four-step process involving observations, hypothesis, experiments, and conclusion. ID begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI). Design theorists hypothesize that if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI. Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information. One easily testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity, which can be discovered by experimentally reverse-engineering biological structures to see if they require all of their parts to function. When ID researchers find irreducible complexity in biology, they conclude that such structures were designed.

Regarding testability, ID makes the following testable predictions:

(1) Natural structures will be found that contain many parts arranged in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information).

(2) Forms containing large amounts of novel information will appear in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors.

(3) Convergence will occur routinely. That is, genes and other functional parts will be re-used in different and unrelated organisms.

(4) Much so-called “junk DNA” will turn out to perform valuable functions.

In this regard, ID is falsifiable. When we test these predictions, ID passes those tests. For example:

Regarding prediction 1, natural structures have been found that contain many parts arranged in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information), such as irreducibly complex machines in the cell. The bacterial flagellum is a prime example. The specified complexity of protein bonds and the simplest self-reproducing cell are other examples. For details, please see Intelligent design (ID) has scientific merit because it uses the scientific method to make its claims and infers design by testing its positive predictions or Asking the Right Questions about the Evolutionary Origin of New Biological Information or you might also enjoy reading the book Signature in the Cell by Cambridge University Ph.D. philosopher of science Stephen C. Meyer.

Regarding prediction 2, biological novelty appears in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors. The Cambrian explosion is the prime example. For details, please see Intelligent Design Has Scientific Merit in Paleontology.

Regarding prediction 3, similar parts have been found in organisms that even Darwinists see as separated by more closely related forms that do not contain the similar parts in question. Clear examples include genes controlling eye or limb growth in different organisms whose alleged common ancestors are not thought to have had such forms of eyes or limbs. For details, please see: A Primer on the Tree of Life.

Regarding prediction 4, genetic research continues to uncover functions for “junk-DNA,” include functionality for pseudogenes, introns, LINE, ALU elements, and many other types of “junk DNA.” Examples of unknown DNA functions persist, but design encourages researchers to investigate functions, whereas Darwinism has caused some scientists to wrongly assume that non-coding DNA is junk. In fact, ID proponents have been predicting the collapse of the “junk DNA” paradigm for many years. For details, please see: Intelligent Design and the Death of the “Junk-DNA” Neo-Darwinian Paradigm.

These predictions are elaborated in “The Positive Case for Design.” In this regard, below is a brief listing of some of the fields where ID provides a framework for predicting, understanding, and explaining the patterns we observe in nature from a wide variety of scientific fields:

  • Biochemistry, where ID explains and predicts the presence of high levels of complex and specified information in proteins and DNA;
  • Genetics, where ID predicts and explains function for so-called “junk” DNA while neo-Darwinism stifles such research;
  • Systematics, where ID explains why there are similarities between living species, including examples of extreme genetic “convergence” that severely conflict with conventional evolutionary phylogenies;
  • Cell biology, where ID explains why the cell resembles “designed structures rather than accidental by-products of neo-Darwinian evolution,” allowing scientists to better understand the workings of molecular machines;
  • Systems biology, where ID encourages biologists to look at various biological systems as integrated components of larger systems that are designed to work together in a top-down, coordinated fashion, which is what biologists are finding is the case;
  • Animal biology, where ID predicts function for allegedly “vestigial” organs, structures, or systems whereas evolution has made many faulty predictions here;
  • Bioinformatics, where ID explains the presence of new layers of information and functional language embedded in the genetic codes, as well as other codes within biology;
  • Information theory, where ID encourages scientists to understand where intelligent causes are superior to natural causes in producing certain types of information;
  • Paleontology, where ID’s prediction of irreducibly complexity in biological systems explains paleontological patterns such as the abrupt appearance of biological life forms, punctuated change, and stasis throughout the history of life;
  • Physics and Cosmology, where ID encourages scientists to investigate and discover more instances of fine-tuning of the laws of physics and properties of our universe that uniquely allow for the existence of advanced forms of life;

Finally, you might benefit from an Educator’s Briefing Packet on Intelligent Design. We don’t recommend pushing ID into the curriculum in public schools, so if you’re interested in more information on Discovery Institute’s recommended science education policy, please visit Discovery Institute’s Science Education Policy or feel free to write back seeking more information.

We help many educators to better understand the debate over evolution. Contact us for more information!


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.



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