Saturday, September 28, 2013

Is ID science?

Many people argue intelligent design (ID) isn't science.

I'm not an ID theorist. Nor am I affiliated in any way with the ID movement. So I don't speak with any sort of authority on this issue. And it's not necessarily a hill I'd be willing to die on. Rather, this is just my two cents' worth, which may be all it's worth.

  1. I think to ask if ID is science is often avoiding the real issue, because many of the same people assume if ID isn't science, then they can pretty much just ignore it.

    But the real issue isn't what is or isn't science. What demarcates science from non-science. Besides, philosophers of science have argued over this for decades if not centuries, and there's no perfectly acceptable answer for what is science and what isn't science.

    The real issue is whether a proposition or hypothesis or theory like "there is evidence of intelligent design in the cell" is true or false, or more likely true than false, or the like. The real issue is the truth of the matter. Or at least it should be the real issue!

  2. Others say ID is pseudoscience. It's more like astrology or alchemy.

    a. Not that I agree, but let's play along with this for a moment. Let's say ID is more like astrology or alchemy. Just because it is like astrology or alchemy doesn't necessarily mean ID doesn't make useful scientific contributions (let alone that it need stay like astrology or alchemy). After all, astrology made contributions that arguably helped lay some of the groundwork for astronomy, whereas alchemy made contributions that arguably helped lay some of the groundwork for chemistry.

    b. Plus, if it's possible ID is pseudoscience, we come back to the demarcation problem. What is it about ID that makes it pseudoscience?

  3. ID doesn't accept methodological naturalism.

    a. How is it "scientific" to make a priori commitments to methodological naturalism? (Let alone metaphysical naturalism a la Lewontin's not allowing a divine foot in the door, as if the door even exists in the first place on metaphysical naturalism since the universe would be a closed system.)

    b. We can debate methodology, but if methodology becomes a straitjacket in inquiring after the truth, then so much the worse for methodological naturalism.

  4. I suppose one reason many people don't think ID is science is because ID doesn't offer a paradigm to replace what it takes down. For instance, if neo-Darwinism is false as ID theorists argue, then what should replace it?

    a. Of course, ID theorists don't think the whole of neo-Darwinism is false. For example, Michael Behe is an ID theorist and a theistic evolutionist. A traditional theistic evolutionist like Francis Collins doesn't subscribe to ID theory, but he does subscribe to universal common descent as well as the neo-Darwinian mechanisms to explain universal common descent. But Behe argues the neo-Darwinian mechanisms have failed to explain universal common descent, even though he still subscribes to universal common descent.

    b. However, just because there isn't an answer doesn't mean it's not scientific to ask the question. Disproving a theory can still be scientific without also needing to prove a new theory to replace the old disproven one.

    c. Sometimes we simply don't know the answer, and have to say so. Is it scientifically unacceptable to conclude I don't know?

  5. Another reason people don't think ID is science is because they think ID is crypto-creationism.

    But ID doesn't posit the identity of the intelligent designer. ID attempts to detect the effects of the cause without identifying the cause. As such, one doesn't need to be a creationist to accept ID.

  6. ID uses methods similar to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) or forensic science. Is SETI a scientific endeavor? What about forensics?

  7. Further, some think ID isn't science because, once people agree something is intelligently designed, there are no more scientific questions to ask beyond this point. What's beyond would be "theological" or "philosophical." Not science.

    Actually, that's not true. For, if there is evidence of intelligent design, ID can still continue to ask scientific questions. For example, say we agree DNA contains intelligently designed information. As such, one could ask, how can one track this information to a particular source(s)? What's the nature of this information? Can we organize it? Can one reverse engineer the information? Has this information been corrupted or is it in tact? If it has been corrupted in transit, then how did it become corrupt - e.g. through physical causes like a car getting rusty, or through an agent(s) with intelligence?

Anyway, just some of my piddling little thoughts.


  1. I think that ID does accept *methodological* naturalism, but doesn't accept *metaphysical* naturalism (naturalism that predetermines the conclusions comply with naturalism). They think you can adopt methodological naturalism and then deduce an intelligent cause from the effect discovered using investigations that follow methodological naturalism.

    1. Hi winteryknight,

      Thanks for your comment, and I appreciate the fine work you do on your blog!

      Just a few comments if I may:

      1. Just to clarify, I brought up methodological naturalism as something critics of ID cite against ID. I'm not saying this is what ID theorists themselves believe.

      2. I think different ID theorists have (slightly?) different degrees of acceptance or tolerance toward methodological naturalism. Many don't reject it outright, but most do see its limitations.

      3. I agree ID doesn't necessarily have to preclude methodological naturalism. It's possible the intelligent designer is natural, and something that can be detected by methodological naturalism.

      4. However, as I understand it, ID theorists would say we run into problems when methodological naturalism becomes the mandated method to "do" science. For example, according to Stephen Meyer, the powers that be dictated "how" science should be done in the peer review controversy where Richard Sternberg lost his job. It sounds like a big part of the problem was the scientific establishment's adherence to methodological naturalism.

      5. I've read ID theorists citing multiple problems and limitations with methodological naturalism. Meyer criticizes methodological naturalism in his latest book Darwin's Doubt for example. See chapter 19 - "The Rules of Science."

      6. Although strictly speaking methodological naturalism need not lead to metaphysical naturalism, secularists oftentimes sneak metaphysical naturalism into methodological naturalism. For example, see this post including the combox.

      7. On a related note, as I understand it, different ID theorists also subscribe to different design detection methods (e.g. probabilistic, Bayesian, inference to the best explanation).

  2. I think many arguments are made against ID in the difference between what people perceive science is versus what science actually is. That is, the arguments aren't good arguments, but they work because many people misunderstand science. I would further say that, given people's ideological commitments, many refine their idea of science based on such arguments.