As the Intelligent Design Movement Publishes Peer-Reviewed Literature, Critics Backpedal
Over the course of a series of recent articles, we’ve seen there are now some 50-plus peer-reviewed scientific papers that support intelligent design (see our updated peer-reviewed articles page for details). What can an ID critic say in response?
Critics of intelligent design have long been desperate to find ways to claim ID isn’t science. For years, perhaps the most common argument to this effect alleged that ID proponents don’t publish in peer-reviewed scientific papers.
Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, was quoted in USA Today in March 2005 saying that ID theorists “aren’t published because they don’t have scientific data.” The same year, Dan Abrams on MSNBC said to Eugenie Scott “My understanding is that there is not a single peer-reviewed article out there that supports intelligent design,” and Dr. Scott replied, “You are not wrong. You are correct.” (David Boze and I discuss Dr. Scott’s claim in a recent ID the Future podcast, and you can watch the amusing clip and Stephen Meyer’s rebuttal on YouTube here.)
Later in 2005, Dr. Scott and her colleagues with the NCSE and ACLU convinced Judge Jones to rule that “A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory” and “ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals.” In case you missed that, he also claimed ID is “failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals” and that “ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications.”
Though Judge Jones’s findings were false when he made them in 2005, many have used his ruling as an excuse to perpetuate these false criticisms of ID. For example, Lauri Lebo — a journalist who made a career out of bashing ID after the Dover case — wrote in early 2011 that “there is no such thing as ID research, which has not yet produced one single legitimate peer reviewed paper.” Likewise, Michigan State University law professor Frank Ravitch claimed in his 2011 book Marketing Intelligent Design that “ID proponents make no attempt to falsify their ultimate hypothesis” and “ID advocates … have failed to engage in experiments that could support or contravene evolution through natural selection.” There’s hardly an end to the list of ID critics who have made similar, equally inaccurate claims.
It’s fine to disagree with ID. And I recognize that this is one of those many issues where reasonable people can disagree. But it’s quite another thing to persistently deny the facts on a yes-or-no question like whether peer-reviewed ID scientific research papers exist — especially when the fact that they do exist is so easily verified.
Rather than admitting that their argument is (and was) false, most ID critics will probably fall back on other arguments. Thus, from the “No peer reviewed research papers exist” canard the fallback position is to say “Not enough peer reviewed research papers exist.” The change in words is slight, but it’s very important.
For one thing, this weaker fallback argument implicitly concedes that prior arguments against ID have failed. If those stronger criticisms hadn’t failed, we’d still be hearing them.
For another, it begs questions like, “How many papers is enough?,” “Enough to show what?,” or “Just what are we trying to show?”
On one hand, a scientific theory can never have “enough” peer-reviewed research papers in support. Ask any Darwinian evolutionist and I’m sure he’ll tell you that more evidence backing the theory is always good thing. Likewise ID proponents continue to conduct and publish research into intelligent design. So again, “Enough to show what?”
Now it’s time to cast an eye back on history. The original argument, made by Judge Jones and a myriad of others, holds that ID isn’t a scientific theory. So how many is “enough” papers to show ID is science? One? Five? Ten? Fifty? One hundred? There’s no objective metric to answer this question because the question doesn’t deal with numbers. It deals with methodology. Here’s the horror that ID critics are confronted with: Whatever “enough” is, fifty papers is more than enough to show that ID proponents are doing research, and testing it with a level of rigor sufficient to warrant publication in peer-reviewed journals. So it’s not about numbers. It’s about the fact that this research and publishing are happening in the first place.
ID proponents have published a critical mass of papers sufficient to show a healthy scientific research program. A hundred papers will be better, and a thousand papers will be awesome. I think we’ll get there. But fifty papers is more than enough.
Some might say that “enough” is only “enough” only when it surpasses the number of papers published by proponents of neo-Darwinian evolution. Again, this is a fallacy because compared to Darwinian theory, ID is a young scientific field that has had far less time to develop, and dramatically less money to perform and publish research. And even if ID had the same research resources and still failed to publish as many papers, why would that imply ID isn’t science? That ID proponents are publishing research papers is undeniable, and it is good evidence that ID is based upon a positive scientific research program.
So let’s be blunt: The “ID hasn’t published enough papers” objection is simply malicious, stemming from a mindset that will never admit that enough peer-reviewed papers exist. It’s the perfect argument for the anti-ID backpedaller who wants a scalable argument that need never be abandoned. It’s also an irrelevant argument and a fallacious one.
Where will ID critics backpedal to next? It’s hard to say. We’ve seen some hints. Josh Rosenau likes to use ridicule and say the research program is all a facade. Silence and stonewalling are also likely moves, perhaps the most likely. It must be very important to Darwin lobbyists that ID have no peer reviewed papers–otherwise they wouldn’t be so willing to abandon reality in favor of ridicule, mockery, and other forms of harsh rhetoric.
Theoretical Arguments Against ID Being Science
We’ve seen that ID proponents do publish research testing their theory. But let us close with a question in the subjunctive: If intelligent design weren’t being tested by its proponents, would that mean it isn’t science? Clearly, the answer is “No, it could still be science.”
First, try a thought experiment. If scientists had refused to put relativity to the test, would that mean relativity wasn’t a testable scientific theory? Of course not. It would just mean that its proponents weren’t testing it. Or put it this way: If proponents of neo-Darwinian evolution refused to test their theory, would that mean neo-Darwinism wasn’t scientific? No. It would just mean its proponents weren’t treating their theory in a scientific manner. In the same way, if ID qualifies as a scientific theory due to its epistemic status (which it does), then even if its proponents never tested the theory, it would still be science.
Authorities in the field of philosophy of science would seem to agree with this argument. When debating the epistemic status of creationism, philosopher of science David Hull writes:
[I]f the issue is the nature of science, Laudan (1982:17) concludes, “What counts is the epistemic status of creationism, not the cognitive idiosyncrasies of the creationists.” Quinn (1984:47) agrees. “The requirement is that a scientific theory be testable, not that its proponents actually test it.” Such issues as cheating and the falsification of data are irrelevant to creationism being a genuine science and creationists’ views being genuinely scientific. Although Quinn (1984:48) does not want to defend, mitigate, or excuse the intellectual dishonesty one finds in the writings of creationists, he warns that “integrity, like tentativeness, is a characteristic of persons either individually or as groups.” Ad hominem arguments in science as elsewhere are irrelevant.
(David Hull, Science as a Process: An Evolutionary Account of the Social and Conceptual Development of Science, pp. 343-344 (University of Chicago Press, 1988).)
In other words, as far as the abstract question of whether ID epistemically qualifies as science is concerned, the matter of peer-review appears to be irrelevant. We’ll be investigating this further in another upcoming article. For now, here’s the rub: ID proponents do test their theory and publish the results in peer-reviewed scientific papers, but even if they didn’t, ID still could be scientific.
ID’s Epistemic Status as Science
When it comes to assessing whether ID is science, in my view what matters is whether ID researchers use the scientific method to make their claims. And indeed, they do.
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 tested for by reverse-engineering biological structures through genetic knockout experiments to determine if they require all of their parts to function. When scientists experimentally uncover irreducible complexity in a biological structure, they conclude that it was designed.
So we see that, in arguing that ID isn’t science, ID critics have failed on both theoretical and practical grounds. Theoretically, ID critics have failed because ID uses the scientific method to make its claims, which are testable predictions. Practically, ID critics have failed because ID proponents are doing experimental research to test ID’s predictions and are publishing those results in peer-reviewed scientific papers.
What arguments will ID critics fall back on next?