Intelligent design (ID) has scientific merit because it uses the scientific method to make its claims and infers design by testing its positive predictions
By Casey Luskin
[Editor's note: This article was posted on behalf of Discovery Institute as part of a series of articles both for and against ID at OpposingViews.com.]
"In all irreducibly complex systems in which the cause of the system is known by experience or observation, intelligent design or engineering played a role [in] the origin of the system."1
--Stephen C. Meyer (Ph.D. Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University) & Scott Minnich (Professor of Microbiology, University of Idaho).
Intelligent design (ID) has scientific merit because it uses the scientific methods commonly used by other historical sciences to conclude that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.2 ID theorists argue that design can be inferred by studying the informational properties of natural objects to determine if they bear the type of information that in our experience arise from an intelligent cause.
Proponents of neo-Darwinism contend that the information in life arose via purposeless, blind, and unguided processes.3 ID proponents contend that the information in life arose via purposeful, intelligently guided processes. Both claims are scientifically testable using scientific methods employed by standard historical sciences. ID thus is based upon the claim that there are "telltale features of living systems and the universe that are best explained by an intelligent cause."4
Scientists employing ID compare observations of how intelligent agents act when they design things to observations of phenomena whose origin is unknown. Human intelligence provides a large empirical dataset for studying the products of the action of intelligent agents. Mathematician and philosopher William Dembski observes that "[t]he principal characteristic of intelligent agency is directed contingency, or what we call choice."5 When "an intelligent agent acts, it chooses from a range of competing possibilities" to create some complex and specified event.6 Dembski calls ID "a theory of information" where "information becomes a reliable indicator of design as well as a proper object for scientific investigation."7 ID thus seeks to find in nature the types of information which are known to be produced by intelligent agents, and reliably indicate the prior action of intelligence.
The form of information which reliably indicates design is generally called "specified complexity" or “complex and specified information.”8 Dembski suggests that design can be detected when one finds a rare or highly unlikely event (making it complex) that conforms to an independently derived pattern (making it specified).
Incidentally, the term "specified complexity" did not originate with proponents of intelligent design. In 1973, the leading origin of life theorist Leslie Orgel (who opposes ID) explained that "living organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity":
ID is a historical science, meaning it employs the principle of uniformitarianism, which holds that the present is the key to the past. ID investigations thus begin with observations about how intelligent agents operate and then proceed to convert those observations into positive predictions of what scientists should find in nature if intelligent design was involved in the origin of a given natural object.
For example, Stephen C. Meyer observes that “[a]gents 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.”15 Meyer further observes:
Design proponents thus use standard uniformitarian reasoning of historical sciences to apply an empirically-derived cause-and-effect relationship between intelligence and certain types of informational patterns to the historical scientific record in order to account for the origin of various natural phenomena.17 As Meyer explains, "by invoking design to explain the origin of new biological information, contemporary design theorists are not positing an arbitrary explanatory element unmotivated by a consideration of the evidence. Instead, they are positing an entity possessing precisely the attributes and causal powers that the phenomenon in question requires as a condition of its production and explanation."18
In this regard, ID uses the scientific method to make its claims. The scientific method is commonly described as a four-step process involving observations, hypothesis, experiments, and conclusion.19 As noted, 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.20 One easily testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity, which can tested and discovered by experimentally reverse-engineering biological structures through genetic knockout experiments to determine if they require all of their parts to function.21 When experimental work uncovers irreducible complexity in biology, they conclude that such structures were designed.
One can disagree with the conclusions of ID, but one cannot reasonably claim that it is an argument based upon religion, faith, or divine revelation. Nothing critics can say--whether appealing to politically motivated condemnations of ID issued by pro-Darwin scientific authorities, or harping upon the religious beliefs of ID proponents--will change the fact that intelligent design is not a "faith-based" argument. Intelligent design has scientific merit because it is an empirically based argument that uses well-accepted scientific methods of historical sciences in order to detect in nature the types of complexity which we understand, from present-day observations, are derived from intelligent causes.
[1.] Scott A. Minnich & Stephen C. Meyer, "Genetic Analysis of Coordinate Flagellar and Type III Regulatory Circuits in Pathogenic Bacteria," in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Design & Nature, Rhodes Greece, pg. 8.
[2.] Some parts of this opening statement are drawn from David K. DeWolf, John West, Casey Luskin, "Intelligent Design will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover," 68 Montana Law Review 7 (Winter, 2007).
[3.] See, for example, Douglas J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology, pg. 5 (3rd ed., Sinauer Associates Inc., 1998); The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity: Nobel Laureates Initiative (September 9, 2005); Biology by Neil A. Campbell, Jane B. Reese. & Lawrence G. Mitchell (5th ed., Addison Wesley Longman, 1999), pgs. 412-413; Edward O. Wilson, "Intelligent Evolution: The consequences of Charles Darwin's 'one long argument'," Harvard Magazine (November-December, 2005); Francisco J. Ayala, "Darwin’s greatest discovery: Design without designer," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Vol. 104:8567-8573 (May 15, 2007).
[4.] Stephen C. Meyer, Not by Chance: From Bacterial Propulsion Systems to Human DNA, Evidence of Intelligent Design Is Everywhere, Natl. Post A22 (Dec. 1, 2005).
[5.] William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities, pg. 62 (Cambridge University Press 1998).
[7.] William A. Dembski, "Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information," in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives, pg. 553 (Robert T. Pennock ed., MIT Press 2001).
[8.] William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence, pg. xiv (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 2002) ("[T]he defining feature of intelligent causes is their ability to create novel information and, in particular, specified complexity").
[9.] Leslie E. Orgel, The Origins of Life: Molecules and Natural Selection, pg. 189 (Chapman & Hall, 1973).
[10.] Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, pg. 39 (Free Press 1996).
[11.] Dembski, No Free Lunch, pg. 115.
[12.] Michael J. Behe, "Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference," in Intelligent Design Creationism, in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives, pg. 247 (Robert T. Pennock ed., MIT Press 2001).
[13.] Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, pg. 39 (quoting Darwin: "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down").
[14.] Scott A. Minnich & Stephen C. Meyer, "Genetic Analysis of Coordinate Flagellar and Type III Regulatory Circuits in Pathogenic Bacteria," in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Design & Nature, Rhodes Greece, pg. 8.
[15.] Stephen C. Meyer, "The Cambrian Information Explosion," in Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA, pg. 388 (William A. Dembski and Michael W. Ruse eds., Cambridge University Press, 2004).
[16.] Stephen C. Meyer, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Vol. 117(2):213-239 (2004).
[17.] Stephen C. Meyer, "The Scientific Status of Intelligent Design: The Methodological Equivalence of Naturalistic and Non-Naturalistic Origins Theories," in The Proceedings of the Wethersfield Institute: Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe, Vol. 9, pg. 182-92 (Ignatius Press 1999).
[18.] Stephen C. Meyer, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Vol. 117(2):213-239 (2004).
[19.] Many biology textbooks define science as "a way of knowing" where that "way" is the scientific method. See Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, Biology A Molecular Approach, 8th ed. (Learning Corporation, 2001), pgs. 14-18 (calling science a "[w]ay of knowing" which employs observations, repeatable and verifiable experiments, and tentativeness); George B. Johnson, Biology Visualizing Life (Holt, 1998), pgs. 11-13 (calling science a "search for knowledge" which uses observations, hypothesis, predictions, and testing, to create theories); George Johnson and Peter Raven, Biology (Holt, 2004), pgs. 14-19 (characterizing science as a process using observations, questions, forming hypotheses, making predictions, experimenting, and drawing conclusions); William D. Schraer and Herbert J. Stoltze, Biology: The Study of Life (Prentice Hall, 1999), pgs. 14-16 (calling science "an attempt to understand the world we live in" where the scientific method is asking questions, researching, formulating a hypothesis, performing experiments, and data analysis).
[20.] These kinds of tests were reported by pro-ID molecular biologist Doug Axe in Douglas D. Axe, "Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on Enzyme Exteriors," Journal of Molecular Biology, Vol 301:585-595 (2000); Douglas D. Axe, "Estimating the Prevalence of Protein Sequences Adopting Functional Enzyme Folds," Journal of Molecular Biology, 1-21 (2004).
[21.] See for example, Scott Minnich’s genetic knockout experiments performed on the bacterial flagellum as testified about the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial at Transcript of Proceedings. Afternoon Session, pgs 99-108 (Nov. 3, 2005), Kitzmiller v. Dover, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707.