Skip navigation

About IDEA Center

News & Events



IDEA Student Clubs


Contact Us



Inaccurate Discussion: A Response to Scott LaFee's "Intelligent Discussion" (Union Tribune, June 8, 2005) [Short Version]

by IDEA Center Staff


On June 8, 2005, prolific writer Scott LaFee wrote an article ( in the San Diego Union Tribune on a truly interesting topic: Intelligent Design (ID). As the title of the article implies, LaFee interviewed many well credentialed individuals regarding this topic. At first blush, one may think that this article will present some helpful, factual, and interesting information regarding a topic receiving much press coverage lately. However, a little bit of background may prove this lofty journalistic ideal to be missed.

Consider the author of the article, who was awarded a Human Achievement Award back in 1999 by the Humanist Association of San Diego ( Additionally, LaFee has also spoken at the San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry on October 24, 1999 ( Furthermore, LaFee wrote a series of articles on evolution entitled “How Life Began” back in 1997. Based on this information, it is not hard to imagine what LaFee’s bias will be on the topic of ID. While it is certainly no crime to have a bias when writing on such a topic, it may be worth noting these so the reader can be more informed of the “rose colored” glasses with which the author sees.

The stacking of the deck does not stop here, though. One may find it interesting to note that none of those interviewed are ID proponents. Rather than getting responses “from the hors’s mouth,” it appears that simply obtaining responses from credentialed individuals, regardless of their knowledge on Intelligent Design, is sufficient to provide an air of sophistication and accuracy. Herein lays yet another significant error in accurate reporting on ID. It seems the first blush impression of the article may prove quite inaccurate indeed.

Inaccurate Portrayals
Within the first few paragraphs of the article, one of the first misleading statements of ID is made:

The new challenge [to teaching Darwinian evolution] comes from proponents of "intelligent design," which argues that there are things in the world – namely, life – that defy scientific explanation and can only be attributed to the handiwork of an unidentified, supernatural creator.

Immediately, LaFee has constructed several strawman concepts regarding the nature of ID, as well as implied a particular definition of science. Let us tease apart these different facets. The first is that ID looks at things “that defy scientific explanation.” LaFee has smuggled in a common tenet of philosophical naturalism, and philosophies are clearly not scientific. Specifically, the tenet is in the philosophical naturalists’ definition of science: science is the study of naturally occurring phenomenon as the result of natural causes. It is in the last phrase that the metaphysical viewpoint is apparent: as the result of natural causes. Yet, there are many areas considered scientific that consider non-natural causes (which are not necessarily supernatural). For example, archeology, forensics, and SETI are just a few of the subjects that consider non-natural causal explanations. A more appropriate definition of science that does not pander to any philosophical bias, religious or otherwise, would the science is the study of natural phenomenon as a result of whatever causes that the evidence indicates. (For those interested in learning more about the role naturalism plays in science, see our Primer: Naturalism in Science -

Beyond this underlying definition of science presumed accurate, briefly consider the intimation that ID is not scientific. Recall that the scientific method includes the following steps of observation, formulating a hypothesis for what is observed, performing experiments to test the hypothesis, and, finally, construct a conclusion regarding the validity of the hypothesis. ID begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI). They hypothesize that if objects were designed, they will contain CSI. They then seek to find CSI. One easily testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity (IC) (which will be discussed at length later). ID researchers can then experimentally reverse-engineer biological structures to see if they are IC. If they find them, they can conclude design. Therefore, since ID follows the scientific method, it falls within the realm of science. (For those interested in a bit more detailed look at the science of ID, see our FAQ: Does intelligent design theory implement the scientific method? -

The last inaccuracy in LaFee’s statement regarding the nature of ID is that ID posits what is observed is “the handiwork of an unidentified, supernatural creator.” In reality, ID cannot specify the identity nor nature of the designer(s). This is because ID has only two presuppositions: 1) intelligent or agent causes exist, and 2) we can empirically detect things that are designed (e.g. through statistical methods or other methods common to similar scientific areas previously mentioned). Nothing can be said regarding the designer(s) identity, ability, nor intent. Not identifying the designer is not an effort to be secretive, but merely being honest regarding the limitations of ID. LaFee’s misunderstanding of ID has been seen so frequently, we have several FAQ’s dealing with it: FAQ: Is intelligent design an appeal to miracles or the supernatural? -; FAQ: What is the Identity of the Designer? –; and our FAQ: ID is asking us to accept the existence of an intelligent designer. Where is there evidence for the intelligent designer? - Certainly, there are individuals that would identify the designer as supernatural, but they go beyond ID proper in making this identification. If it were true that ID necessarily claims a supernatural creator, then there would not be agnostics (e.g. David Berlinski, Todd Moody) or “eccentric” atheists promoting ID. LaFee has twisted ID to be something that it is not in an effort to pit the discussion as between science and religion rather than science versus science. (For those interested in a more detailed discussion of the role science and religion play in providing knowledge with a particular emphasis to ID, as well as how there is a false dichotomy posed between the two, see our article on Religious and Scientific Affiliations -

Moving on to the next statement in LaFee’s article, restated below, some blatant factually erroneous statements are made.

In more than 20 states, proposals supporting intelligent design are being considered, most notably by the Kansas State Board of Education, which may decide this month whether to include intelligent design lessons in its new science curriculum standards and encourage school teachers to more aggressively challenge the precepts of Darwinism.

First, there are not more than 20 states with “proposals supporting intelligent design.” There are approximately that number of states that are considering modifying the way evolution is taught and of those states, and of those considering said modifications, a few are considering proposals supporting ID. (For those interested in whether ID proponents wish to ‘water down’ the teaching of evolution, see the following: FAQ: Doesn't ID suggest eliminating evolution from schools or "watering down" the curriculum? - Additionally, for those interested in learning more about whether teaching ID violates the establishment clause, see the following: FAQ: Would teaching intelligent design violate the Establishment Clause of First Amendment of the Constitution? -, it is important to point out that it is not necessarily the entire state which is considering modifications to teaching evolution; rather, in some of these states, it is only one school board rather than the entire state education board dealing with this issue. A reader would definitely be left with an incorrect understanding of the current situations in various school boards, especially in light of the comment regarding current events in the state of Kansas.

In fact, ID is not even on the table for discussion to be considered for inclusion in the Kansas state science standards. A brief review or even simply doing a word search for the most recent proposed revisions (March 29, 2005) will show this to be the case (see ). While the hearings on the proposed standards included both advocates and critics of ID, it was made clear by the Science Hearings Committee “that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include the theory of Intelligent Design. … The Board does not take a position on this topic.” (from New Draft of Kansas Science Standards Praised For Encouraging Critical Analysis of Evolution, available at All that is being considered in Kansas is a more accurate portrayal of the scientific evidence both for and against evolutionary theory, similar to what occurred in the state of Ohio, and which is consistent language in the Conference Report on the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (for more information, see

The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should Prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from the religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

Questions & Answers:

We now move on to the meat of the article, which primarily consists of questions and answers du jour. We’ll begin by restating each question and then comment on the respondents’ answers.

QUESTION: How do you define science? Is intelligent design science? First Respondent Phil Unit, ornithologist, San Diego Natural History Museum: ID proponents would largely agree with the first respondent, Phil Unitt, in his first three paragraphs on the nature of scientific investigation – especially the last of these three in which he notes that simply “because some authority or committee tells it or says it is science” does not make is so. Unitt claims that he is unaware of any experiment that one can perform to falsify or confirm an ID hypothesis. In fact, he goes even further than this to claim that no person has yet come forth to propose such an experiment.

However, it appears that Unitt is not very well versed in probably the most well known ID “poster child:” the bacterial flagellum. The bacterial flagellum is claimed to be an excellent example of an IC system. In fact, back in December of 2001, noted ID proponent Dr. Michael Behe addressed this objection of ID being falsifiable in a sweeping response to critics of his book Darwin’s Black Box ( section V. A., p. 33):

In Darwin’s Black Box (Behe 1996) I claimed that the bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex and so required deliberate intelligent design. The flip side of this claim is that the flagellum can’t be produced by natural selection acting on random mutation, or any other unintelligent process. To falsify such a claim, a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure (for mobility, say), grow it for ten thousand generations, and see if a flagellum -or any equally complex system - was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.

Second Respondent Christopher Wills, professor of biology, UCSD: Similar to the first respondent, Wills claims ID advocates have not proposed any experiments to falsify their predictions. Our comments to the first respondent will adequately address this claim. (For even further examples of testable predictions of ID, see our FAQ: Does intelligent design make predictions? Is it testable? However, it is interesting to note the following quote from Wills regarding evolution being falsifiable:

Or, in the case of evolution, one could search for sudden discontinuities in the history of life, in which a new structure or function has arisen without any previous history and no relationship to structures or functions in other related organisms. (Such new structures have not yet been found, by the way.)

This is a rather bold statement. Perhaps Wills is unaware of the Cambrian Explosion so well documented in the fossil record, which shows exactly what he claims does not exist: new structures without any previous history. (For a detailed discussion of how the fossil record does not support an evolutionary explanation, see our article on Problems with Evolutionary Explanations of the Fossil Record - as well as our article on Punctuated Equilibrium and Patterns from the Fossil Record -

Third Respondent Exequiel Ezcurra, director of scientific research, San Diego Natural History Museum: The main two claims by Ezcurra is that ID posits a “supernatural “intelligent designer”” and is incognizant of the ‘proper’ method of explaining natural effects “through natural causes”. Since our first respondent comments address the misunderstanding of what constitutes ID as well as the presence of philosophical naturalism in science, we will not repeat that same information. Though, it is interesting to note how common these misunderstandings are and that metaphysical claims, not scientific claims, undergird much of the scientific establishment’s objections to ID.

Fourth Respondent Dr. Evan Snyder, neurologist and director of the Stem Cells and Regeneration Program at The Burnham Institute: His claims are nearly identical to the first and third respondents in content and will therefore not be addressed.

QUESTION: A central tenet of intelligent design is that some aspects of life are "irreducibly complex." That is, certain biological systems are so complicated that they could not have evolved incrementally through random mutation and natural selection. Your response.

Prior to looking at the various comments of the respondents, a bit of background is in order. It is true that a central tenet of ID is that some things are irreducibly complex (IC). Irreducible complexity does not mean that "systems are so complicated that they could not have evolved". Irreducible complexity means that some systems have the absolute minimum number of components such that if one component is removed the system cannot function. Therefore a system such as this could not have "evolved incrementally through random mutation and natural selection". This is the more commonly understood definition of IC (which is detailed a bit more in our Primer: Irreducible Complexity in a Nutshell - However, since many people, usually critics, tend to focus on the components too much rather than the steps involved in development (which is really the main focus of IC systems), Behe, who first coined the term, has since provided a modified definition of IC to clarify important considerations (from A Response to Critics of Darwin's Black Box, section II. F., p. 17 -

The focus is off of the “parts” (whose number may stay the same even while the nature of the parts is changing) and re-directed toward “steps”.

Envisioning IC in terms of selected or unselected steps thus puts the focus on the process of trying to build the system. A big advantage, I think, is that it encourages people to pay attention to details; hopefully it would encourage really detailed scenarios by proponents of Darwinism (ones that might be checked experimentally) and discourage just-so stories that leap over many steps without comment. So with those thoughts in mind, I offer the following tentative “evolutionary” definition of irreducible complexity:

An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway.

That definition has the advantage of promoting research: to state clear, detailed evolutionary pathways; to measure probabilistic resources; to estimate mutation rates; to determine if a given step is selected or not. It allows for the proposal of any evolutionary scenario a Darwinist (or others) may wish to submit, asking only that it be detailed enough so that relevant parameters might be estimated. If the improbability of the pathway exceeds the available probabilistic resources (roughly the number of organisms over the relevant time in the relevant phylogenetic branch) then Darwinism is deemed an unlikely explanation and intelligent design a likely one.

First respondent Jeffrey Bada, marine chemist, Scripps Institution of Oceanography: In Bada’s response, there are some similar threads to those noted in the first question. For example, Bada puts forward that ID “claims that the processes involved are scientifically unknowable and thus must be explained by a supernatural or extraterrestrial creator.” The first part of this claim is actually incorrect (i.e. processes are scientifically unknowable) and again assumes the naturalist’s definition of science (which is based on philosophy, not science). As previously mentioned in the response to the first question at the beginning of the article, ID does utilize the scientific method and incorporates agency as a plausible explanation, as do other areas in science. Therefore, Bada has mischaracterized ID, as do many in this article. In actuality ID claims that the laws of physics and chemistry do not possess the causal sufficiency necessary to produce complex systems but that intelligent agents do. (Aside note: Bada is renowned as an origin of life researcher, once a graduate student of Stanley Miller. For a detailed article on the problems of the naturalistic origin of life, see our article Problems with the Natural Chemical "Origin of Life" -

Second respondent Moselio Schaechter, adjunct professor of biology, SDSU: Schaechter begins his response with some interesting questions. It must first be pointed out that Schaechter has phrased IC in a way much more forceful than any well known ID proponent would by asking the following questions:

How can anyone say that something is irreducibly complex, thus evolution impossible?

In response to this are two key points:
1) One can say that something is irreducibly complex if all components must be present simultaneously in order for the system to function.
2) No one notable in the Intelligent Design movement says "impossible". They would however say 'beyond a reasonable doubt'.

Next, Schaechter questions how would one know if something was IC. They know by simply testing the system. That is, if the removal of one component causes the system to cease functioning then it is irreducibly complex. Schaechter goes on with the following queries:

Could it not just escape our present state of understanding? Weren't phenomena such as how inheritance takes place thought to be unfathomable not long ago?

Since it's a logical error to reason from ignorance to a conclusion one would also have to say the same thing about evolution. This nevertheless doesn't prevent us from making valid inferences to the best explanation.

It is worth dealing specifically with an example of horizontal gene transfer that Schaechter cites as a possible explanation for complexity observed in biology. In a 2003 paper in PNAS, "Horizontal gene transfer: A critical view," (August 19, 2003, vol. 100, no. 17, 9658-9662) the author notes that horizontal gene transfer (HGT) "is likely to have been relevant only to primitive genomes" such that, "classical Darwinian lineages seem to be the dominant mode of evolution for modern organisms." If this is the case, then Darwinists should not resort to HGT to explain the origin of many discrepancies among phylogenetic trees among more complex organisms. Additionally, depending on the complexity of the item under investigation (whether organelle or subcellular machine, such as the bacterial flagellum), HGT may lack causal sufficiency because too many genes are involved. The details of how and why this HGT takes place may be difficult for Darwinists to explain, but it is the only epicycle remaining that can keep the evidence from unequivocally pointing towards common design of parts in unrelated organisms.

Schaechter goes on to commit what has been referred to by ID advocates as Berra’s Blunder by citing known intelligently designed machines as an example for unguided random construction of biological complexity:

It makes simple sense: How would you build a highly complex vehicle that can be driven, flown and navigated underwater? Would you start from scratch with some steel ingots, or would you use parts from existing cars, planes and submarines?

It takes intelligence to build these things in the first place, thus, it is probably not the best example to use to make a case for naturalistic evolutionary theory. In other words, an intelligence is necessary for the design of these things; nobody would claim that these things arose due to unguided natural processes. ID holds that the laws of physics and chemistry do not have anywhere near the causal sufficiency necessary to produce complex systems such as a car, plane or submarine; but that intelligent agents do.

Third respondent Dr. Mark Tuszynski, neurologist/neuroscientist, UCSD: His response is fundamentally flawed in the famous Urey-Miller experiment he cites. So that nobody can claim we misconstrue what he said, here it is:

A very simple experiment performed decades ago showed that when a mixture of simple chemicals was placed in a closed chamber and energy was added, the building blocks of life (amino acids) spontaneously formed. The conditions of this experiment mimicked the state of the primordial planet billions of years ago.

The last statement is factually incorrect, based upon the scientific evidence. In the early 1950’s, the Urey-Miller experiment was promoted as supporting the hypothesis that life arose out of a primordial soup, subsequent research has enumerated problems with the hypothesis (these are very briefly enumerated here, but a more detailed discussion with supporting references cited can be found in our article Problems with the Natural Chemical "Origin of Life" -
1. Requires a reducing methane (CH4) & ammonia (NH3) atmosphere. Geochemical evidence says atmosphere was H2, H20, and CO2 .
2. Doesn’t produce nucleic acids and some other sugar-based “building blocks.”
3. Prebiotics degrade quickly into tar-like substance (Maillard-reaction--like cooking).
4. Doesn’t work if there is oxygen, but if no UV-blocking ozone (O3), chemicals are destroyed.
5. No geochemical evidence, but should have left thick (1-10 m) tar layer encircling earth.
6. Would make a dilute “thin soup,” destroyed by impacts ever 10 million years.

In 1990, the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council recommended a “reexamination of biological monomer synthesis under primitive Earthlike environments, as revealed in current models of the early Earth” (The Search for Life's Origins. National Research Council Space Studies Board, National Academy Press: Washington D.C., 1990, pg. 66, 67, 126). In other words, the Miller-Urey experiment in fact is not consistent with known evidence regarding the early Earth and, therefore, does not provide evidence that life can arise out of non-living matter.

However, let us consider in further detail the possibility that the Urey-Miller experiment does provide evidence for amino acid formulation through purely naturalistic processes. Based on looking at the chemistry of the reactants, the amino acids form in the process of the Strecker-cyanohydrin pathway, but the amount of amino acids formed depends on the ammonia concentration. However, what is important to note is that the Miller-Urey experiment made some assumptions, one of the key ones being a reducing atmosphere (i.e. a large presence of ammonia). As mentioned previously, that’s a problem because most geochemists do not think the early earth had much ammonia based on the geological evidence. Additionally, the Miller-Urey experiment also neglected free radical synthesis of aldehydes and HCN as well as amino acid consumption reactions (e.g. Maillard reaction – first discovered by Louis-Camille Maillard in 1912). Furthermore, recall that life is made up of left handed amino acids nearly exclusively; yet equal left and right handed amino acids were formed in the Miller-Urey experiment (except for glycine) – and of the resulting reactants, the amino acids were a miniscule amount – as a result of the Maillard reactions. So, simply stating that amino acids form naturally doesn’t get you very far – and we’ve not even discussed the problems related to polymerization in general which requires dehydration synthesis (i.e. removal of a water molecule) – which, when you think about it, is quite difficult to do in aqueous solutions. Nor have we considered Gibbs Free Energy equation to see the likelihood of such reactions occurring spontaneously. So, simply having some amino acids (only 4 or 5 of the 20 or so required for life) form “naturally” (under quite controlled and artificial conditions) doesn’t get one very far (we’ve not even broached the topic of a self-replicating organism). Given this information, it is indeed unfortunate that Tuszynski made the statements he did, since they are clearly counter to what the scientific evidence suggests.

Moving on now to the latter portions of Tuszynski’s comments, he makes the usual extrapolation regarding given enough time, the incredible biodiversity of life could have formed through chance mutations and natural selection. However, as mentioned previously, ID holds that the laws of physics and chemistry do not have anywhere near the causal sufficiency necessary to produce complex systems \ "remarkable and beautifully diverse forms of life we have today". Physics and chemistry can produce snow flakes; but beyond things like that they're pretty much maxed out.

Fourth respondent Dr. Joshua Fierer, professor of medicine and pathology, UCSD: Fierer has a rather interesting response, ending with some intriguing questions. First, let’s consider some of the interesting comments made. Fierer rightly notes that mutations occurred in humans causing them to be more resistant to malaria. He even goes on to include the fact that there is a “cost” associated with this mutation: sickle cell anemia and thalessemia. Thus far, Fierer is the only respondent to mention that mutations may be deleterious in some fashion; by and large, the other respondents have neglected to include this key point, as do many naturalists. It is a convenient detail to neglect – if some mutations are not beneficial, it becomes increasingly difficult to envisage multiple successive mutations providing cumulative benefit to organisms. Recall one of the basic ideas in evolutionary theory: random genetic mutations (whatever their cause or type) bring about physical changes (even if unseen) in an organism, upon which natural selection (i.e. the environment) acts to “weed out” (or “weed in,” as the case may be) unfit organisms. If there are detrimental mutations, the idea of functional transitional forms becomes more questionable.

Now let’s add a twist to this idea: what if mutations are both beneficial and detrimental? This is exactly what is meant by mutations that come at a “cost” to the organism. For the case of malaria, the mutations that provide resistance to this disease cause problems in other areas (e.g. pain, organ damage, and other problems in the case of sickle cell anemia). In other words, a benefit in one area resulted in a disadvantage in another area. When one considers the idea that mutations, even beneficial ones, may have this somewhat contradictory effect, the next rational question is does the “cost” outweigh the “benefit.” It is not worth going into a detailed example discussion here as the main point to be made here is as follows: mutations, even if beneficial (which is generally not the case), often have negative “side effects.”

This leads us into the intriguing questions Fierer poses to ID proponents: “are we to conclude that the intelligent designer used malaria for that purpose (of achieving prevalence of sickle cell anemia or thalessemia) or that the designer overlooked malaria as a problem and there had to be a post-hoc fix to change the structure of red blood cells?” These get into questions of the intent of the designer or the designer’s ability (i.e. to plan for the future by considering problems that could arise). These are questions which go beyond the science of ID, and, therefore, get into the realm of philosophy and/or theology. Recall that all ID can say is that something is designed, and that is about it. Given that this is the case, these questions will not be addressed further here. (Though, we do have a FAQ on this issue: FAQ: Can we tell the "purpose" of a designed object? - Critics frequently use the supposedly “bad design” or “sub-optimal design” [the latter being sort of an oxymoron – optimal with respect to what? – speaking from an engineering perspective, a design entails dealing with competing constraints, to arrive at a compromise between these constraints to achieve a basic goal] to cast doubt on ID or attempt to put it in a poor light. For those interested, we have a couple articles that deal with this specific issue: FAQ: Some things appear "unintelligently designed" or are poorly designed. Is ID falsified by "sub-optimal design"? - and Good Theology and Bad Design or Bad Theology and Good Design? -

QUESTION: Many mainstream scientists have chosen to ignore or avoid the debate over intelligent design. Why?

First respondent Dr. Ajit P. Varki, professor of medicine, UCSD: Varki gives the so frequently heard intimation that ID is based on faith, not science, as well as ignorance of reality and, therefore, is not giving the dignity of discussion/debate. Varki even goes on to mention that scientists were killed in the past for providing evidence against the prevailing “faith-based positions.” Such a comment makes one think that this could be the case if ID were to gain acceptance in the scientific community. It is not truly worth discussing such a ludicrous idea as this, but it is interesting to note the venomous attacks Darwinists have inflicted on ID sympathizers: consider Dr. Richard Sternberg. In the case of Sternberg, not an ID proponent, his career was practically “killed” based on his “allowing” the publication of a pro-ID article after going through the peer review process. (For more background on this event, see an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, The Branding of a Heretic: Are religious scientists unwelcome at the Smithsonian? - But this is getting a bit side tracked from another interesting point to make regarding one of the examples mentioned by Varki: the flat Earth.

This example is frequently used in an attempt to equate ID proponents, or simply those who are critical of Darwinism, with those who advocate a flat Earth. Doing so portrays the ID theorist or Darwin critic in an obviously poor light – basically, they’re ignorant and/or stupid. What is interesting to note is that the commonly held belief that it was flat-Earth believing clergy warned Christopher Columbus he may fall off the edge of the Earth. In actuality, this is not the case – this is a myth that was started in Washington Irving’s fictional story of Columbus’s voyage, but was later claimed to be actual history by 19th century Darwinian evolution proponents in an effort to mock Christians. (For those interested in a more detailed discussion of this, see Not The Flat Earth Myth Again! -

As mentioned in previous portions of this article, ID is not claiming that since we cannot explain something that it must have been designed. In other words, ID is not making an argument from ignorance, contrary to what Varki is implying. ID utilizes the scientific method to make an inference that what is observed is designed. (For those interested in a further detailed discussion of the objections raised by Varki, see the following FAQS: FAQ: Does intelligent design theory make the "Unexplained" = "Unexplainable" fallacy? - , FAQ: Is intelligent design merely an "argument from ignorance?" -

Second respondent J. David Archibald, professor of biology, SDSU: It’s not difficult to guess at Archibald’s true thoughts on ID. His statements are even worse than the Varki’s – Archibald comes right out and says that ID is “lunacy” and “intellectual drivel”. Similar to Varki, Archibald uses examples of known non-scientific concepts in an effort to lump ID in with them (e.g. “alchemy, astrology and witchcraft”). Unfortunately, Archibald does not do much more than make these proclamations regarding ID not being scientific; the respondent does not provide any justification for this viewpoint and instead relies on blunt statements to make their point.

Perhaps Archibald needs a refresher course on the basics of the scientific method. Doing so may shed some light on the scientific nature of ID, and the “lunacy” of his statements.

QUESTION: One key principle of intelligent design is the belief that there are questions about life and the universe that science cannot answer, now or in the future. Your response.

A bit of background would be fruitful before looking in detail at the responses. Once again, LaFee has constructed a strawman by claiming ID is something it is not. ID does not claim “that there are questions about life and the universe that science cannot answer, now or in the future.” ID does make the claim that based upon the scientific evidence and methodologies utilized in other areas of science (e.g. forensics, archeology, cryptography), some features in nature display the hallmarks of design.

Additionally, LaFee has subtly inserted the naturalists’ view of science proper: only naturalistic explanations/causes may be considered as truly scientific; anything otherwise falls beyond the realm of science. This was dealt extensively previously in this paper and will therefore not be repeated here, other than to say the following: it is a philosophical statement, not a scientific one, to claim that only natural explanations can be considered scientific.

First respondent Tom Demere, paleontologist, San Diego Natural History Museum: There is quite a bit in what is stated by Demere. We’ll consider each of them independently to make clear the misunderstandings and uninformed statements.

First, consider the following statement:

I have to admit that it is not that clear to me just what constitutes ID. Since I could find no research papers published in peer-reviewed scientific publications on the subject, I have had to rely on Internet sources.

Apparently, Demere is unaware of the several recent pro-ID articles published in “peer-reviewed scientific publications”. To give Demere the benefit of the doubt, it is correct that there are not many, and some (though certainly not all) of these are indeed relatively recent; not many people may be aware of them.

Here is a list of peer reviewed articles appearing in scientific journals or proceedings either explicitly mentioning or alluding to ID in a supportive way:
1. Jonathan Wells, “Do Centrioles Generate a Polar Ejection Force? Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum 98 (2005): 37-62.
2. Scott Minnich and Stephen C. Meyer, “Genetic Analysis of Coordinate Flagellar and Type III Regulatory Circuits,” Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Design & Nature, Rhodes Greece, edited by M.W. Collins and C.A. Brebbia (WIT Press, 2004).
3. S.C. Meyer, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2) (2004): 213-239.
4. M.J. Behe and D.W. Snoke, “Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues,” Protein Science, 13 (2004): 2651-2664.
5. W.-E. Lönnig & H. Saedler, “Chromosome Rearrangements and Transposable Elements,” Annual Review of Genetics, 36 (2002): 389-410.
6. D.K.Y. Chiu & T.H. Lui, “Integrated Use of Multiple Interdependent Patterns for Biomolecular Sequence Analysis,” International Journal of Fuzzy Systems, 4(3) (September 2002): 766-775.
7. M.J. Denton & J.C. Marshall, “The Laws of Form Revisited,” Nature, 410 (22 March 2001): 417.I.
8. M.J. Denton, J.C. Marshall & M. Legge, (2002) “The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 219 (2002): 325-342.
9. Sarah A. Mims and Forrest M. Mims III, “Fungal spores are transported long distances in smoke from biomass fires,” Atmospheric Environment 38 (2004): 651-655.

Here is a list of books that are pro-ID by prominent presses, including universities:
1. W.A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
2. Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (The Free Press, 1996).
3. Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories (Philosophical Library, 1984, Lewis & Stanley, 4th ed., 1992).
4. Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery (Regnery Publishing, 2004).
5. William Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot be Purchased without Intelligence (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002).
6. John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, Darwinism, Design, & Public Education (Michigan State University Press, 2003)

Perhaps Demere is unaware of how to do searches for relevant scientific literature on a given topic.

Moving on to Demere’s next several statements, he apparently was unable to come to a full understanding of what ID theory states based on his suggestion that ID merely “conclude[s] that because the natural world is so complex, it must have been created by an intelligent designer.” As mentioned in previous sections of this response, utilizing the same methodologies applied in other areas of science and applying them to biology, we can make the inference that some things may have been designed – again, nothing can be said regarding who or what did the design, their ability, nor their intent. It is only after observing the hallmarks of design that we can make these claims. Demere has misunderstood ID, as many of the scientists have.

In fact, Demere goes on to claim that ID is similar to saying “I don't know!” He has equated ID with an argument from ignorance which was addressed in previous sections (see the response to Varki). Therefore, it is not worth repeating here.

Demere continues by then suggesting that ID would essentially be a ‘science stopper’ by the following rhetorical questions:

Do we really want our children to just accept that the natural world is too complex to understand, and that the idea of an intelligent designer is sufficient to satisfy our curiosity about such things as the structure and function of DNA, genes, cells and organisms? Do we also want our future scientists to be reluctant to tenaciously investigate the natural world no matter what discoveries and conclusions they reach and no matter what philosophical ideas of design and purpose are rejected?

To show the absurdity of these questions, consider the area of cosmology. Within the cosmological community, the Anthropic Principle (i.e. that the universe seems to be designed for life, based on the fine tuning of the physical laws, matter and constants) is actually accepted and discussed by many. It is even frequently mentioned in peer reviewed scientific articles and has led to various research efforts. This would be a perfect example of an area of science which, at times, includes design concepts, has a fruitful research enterprise, yet also includes philosophical implications. In other words, based on other areas in science that already accept design concepts, Demere’s fanciful world of idle scientists is likely unrealistic; we already have examples of where design has not caused people to stop and just sit in awe at what they observe. Indeed, this is a rather interesting point: for those naturalists who claim that everything can be reduced to physical laws and yet wish to maintain that there is no design to it all, they may find themselves in a similar situation to the emperor with no clothes. (For a more detailed discussion of this key point, see Benjamin Wiker’s article “The Meaning-Full Universe,” In addition, the following FAQ addresses the issue of ID being a science stopper: FAQ: Wouldn't intelligent design theory be the end of scientific investigation--a "science stopper?" -

Second respondent Michael Mayer, associate professor of biology, USD: Mayer, as many other respondents, again essentially equates ID to an argument form ignorance. Therefore, this will not be addressed again.

However, Mayer is honest about the historical nature of some aspects of evolutionary theory; in other words, repeatable experiments cannot be performed on events in the past (though, there are some ways to do experiments to determine the consistency or coherence of past events with predications). This is a problem for any origins related science, whether ID or evolution. As such, we are all left looking at the same evidence (i.e. we have empirical equivalence) and comparing how well our predictions match that evidence. This is really where the chips are laid down – how well does the evidence support a given theory/hypothesis? It is in this area that we say the real debate should be occurring, rather than dealing with poor argumentation (e.g. strawman arguments, exaggerations, etc.) that distracts from the truly interesting scientific evidence. (For those interested in learning more about testing the predictions of ID and evolution, see FAQ: Does intelligent design make predictions? Is it testable? -

Third respondent Michael Simpson, professor of biology, SDSU: Simpson makes the rather common ‘science vs. religion’ analogy in the first portion of his response. He does so by noting that many religious people are involved with ID and suggests that they may feel threatened by science if it conflicts with their religious views. The false dichotomy between science and religion was mentioned previously in this paper (in the Inaccurate Portrayals section) and will not be discussed further.

Next, Simpson does have an interesting comment that we think is appropriate for all sides of this evolution-design debate:

“But, it is also important to have clear and critical thinking, a means of checking ourselves, detecting bias against preconceived notions.”

This is actually a wonderful comment and one that we wish naturalists would consider when making their grandiose claims regarding the ability of stochastic processes to produce the biodiversity observed in the world. To be fair, ID advocates must heed this notion of self scrutiny as well, to ensure that the possibility of overstating one’s position is minimized. For anyone considering entering the debate on origins, we recommend keeping this in mind.

Unfortunately, after expressing this noble point, Simpson denigrates ID proponents by implication in his analogizing the belief in demons and utilizing them to explain behaviors in centuries past. Since this is similar to the ‘science vs. religion’ and argument from ignorance mentioned in previous responses, it will not be dealt with here.

Simpson does end on a rather good point, restated here:

“I think it is possible to be both spiritual and a critical thinker: To use one's mind (the scientific method and common sense) in evaluating specific beliefs or claims or ideas, and yet to also seek that question of existence and continually embrace the wonder and awesome mystery of this world.”

(Though, there is a bit of a backhanded remark by intimation that ID proponents do not make use of the “scientific method and common sense”.) We would generally agree with Simpon’s statement here and would encourage others to be as perceptive.

It is appropriate to end our discussion with Simpson’s concluding remarks. Given that the IDEA Center is primarily a science oriented group, we are interested in exploring the scientific evidence and following the evidence wherever it leads, without fear of the philosophical implications that may arise. We hope readers will feel the same way about the design-evolution debate. Nobody should be afraid to put their claims or views to the test – if it’s true, it will withstand the scrutiny. Thanks for reading!