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FAQ: Does intelligent design make predictions? Is it testable?



The Short Answer: Yes. Intelligent design theory predicts: 1) that we will find specified complexity in biology. One special easily detectable form of specified complexity is irreducible complexity. We can test design by trying to reverse engineer biological structures to determine if there is an "irreducible core." Intelligent design also makes other predictions, such as 2) rapid appearance of complexity in the fossil record, 3) re-usage of similar parts in different organisms, and 4) function for biological structures. Each of these predictions may be tested--and have been confirmed through testing!


The Long Answer:

Are Predictions Important?
Yes, they are. Without predictions, there is essentially no way to test if a hypothesis is true. Although there is no definition of science agreed upon by all philosophers of science (Lauden, 1988) many scientists and philosophers have suggested that scientific explanations are: 1. Based upon results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. (NAS, 1998)
2. Subject to testing because scientists can observe the natural world to see if the explanation holds up. (Ayala, 1974; Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, 1963)
3. “Falsifiable,” in the sense that some type of observations could conceivably count against the theory. (Ayala, 1974; Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, 1963)
4. "Tentative," meaning that they are not held absolutely but are held subject to state of the evidence. (NAS, 1998)
The National Academy of Sciences explains that observations (often via experimentation) are fundamental to science: Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not a part of science…The statements of science are those that emerge from the application of human intelligence to data obtained from observation and experiment. (NAS, 1998) According to the National Academy of Sciences, "[s]cience is a particular way of knowing about the world." (NAS, 1998). Additionally, the National Academy of sciences states that a primary goal of science is to understand nature, where "understanding" means "relating one natural phenomena to another and recognizing the causes and effects of phenomena." (NAS, 1998) Progress in science consists of the development of better explanations for the causes of natural phenomena. Intelligent design is one such cause for natural phenomena, and thus would represent progress in science.

At the heart of science is observations, which is what forms the beginning of the scientific method. These observations allow us to make a hypothesis which make testable predictions about what we would expect to find if that hypothesis were true.

Putting Intelligent Design to the Test:
Intelligent design theorists begin with their theory with observations about how intelligent agents act when designing, to help them understand how to recognize and detect design:

Table 1. Ways Designers Act When Designing (Observations): Intelligent agents ...
(1) Take many parts and arrange them in highly specified and complex patterns which perform a specific function.

“Experience teaches that information-rich systems … invariably result from intelligent causes, not naturalistic ones. … Finding the best explanation, however, requires invoking causes that have the power to produce the effect in question. When it comes to information, we know of only one such cause. For this reason, the biology of the information age now requires a new science of design.”
(Stephen C. Meyer, "The Explanatory Power of Design," in Mere Creation, pg. 140 (William A. Dembski ed., InterVarsity Press 1998))

“Agents can arrange matter with distant goals in mind. In their use of language, they routinely ‘find’ highly isolated and improbable functional sequences amid vast spaces of combinatorial possibilities.”
(Stephen C. Meyer, “The Cambrian Information Explosion,” Debating Design, pg. 388 (Dembski and Ruse eds., Cambridge University Press 2004).

"Indeed, in all cases where we know the causal origin of 'high information content,' experience has shown that intelligent design played a causal role."
(Stephen C. Meyer, DNA and Other Designs)
(2) Rapidly infuse any amounts of genetic information into the biosphere, including large amounts, such that at times rapid morphological or genetic changes could occur in populations.

"Intelligent design provides a sufficient causal explanation for the origin of large amounts of information, since we have considerable experience of intelligent agents generating informational configurations of matter."
(Meyer S. C. et. al., "The Cambrian Explosion: Biology's Big Bang," in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, edited by J. A. Campbell and S. C. Meyer (Michigan State University Press, 2003)
(3) 'Re-use parts' over-and-over in different types of organisms (design upon a common blueprint).

“An intelligent cause may reuse or redeploy the same module in different systems, without there necessarily being any material or physical connection between those systems. Even more simply, intelligent causes can generate identical patterns independently: We do so, for instance, every time we sign a bank check or credit card slip” (Nelson and Wells, Homology in Biology, in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, pg. 316, 318 (John Angus Campbell, ed. Michigan State University Press 2003).
(4) Be said to typically NOT create completely functionless objects or parts (although we may sometimes think something is functionless, but not realize its true function).

These observations can then be converted into predictions about what we should find if an object was designed:
Table 2. Predictions of Design (Hypothesis):
(1) High information content machine-like irreducibly complex structures will be found.
(2) Forms will be found in the fossil record that appear suddenly and without any precursors.
(3) Genes and functional parts will be re-used in different unrelated organisms.
(4) The genetic code will NOT contain much discarded genetic baggage code or functionless "junk DNA".

These predictions can then be put to the test by observing the scientific data:
Table 3. Examining the Evidence (Experiment and Conclusion):
Line of Evidence
Data (Experiment)
Prediction of Design Met? (Conclusion)
(1) Biochemical complexity / Laws of the Universe. High information content machine-like irreducibly complex structures are commonly found. The bacterial flagellum is a prime example. Specified complexity found in the laws of the universe may be another.
Yes.
(2) Fossil Record Biological complexity (i.e. new species) tend to appear in the fossil record suddenly and without any similar precursors. The Cambrian explosion is a prime example.
Yes.
(3) Distribution of Molecular and Morphological Characteristics Similar parts found in different organisms. Many genes and functional parts not distributed in a manner predicted by ancestry, and are often found in clearly unrelated organisms. The "root" of the tree of life is a prime example.
Yes.
(4) DNA Biochemical and Biological Functionality Increased knowledge of genetics has created a strong trend towards functionality for "junk-DNA." Examples include recently discovered functionality in some pseudogenes, microRNAs, introns, LINE and ALU elements. Examples of DNA of unknown function persist, but discovery of function may be expected (or lack of current function still explainable under a design paradigm).
Yes.


In this manner, intelligent design is clearly testable as it observes how intelligent agents act when designing (Table 1) in order to make predictions about what we should find if an intelligent agent had been at work (Table 2) , and then goes out and tests those predictions to see if they are met (Table 3)!