Can Intelligent Design (ID) be a Testable, Scientific Theory?
by Rich Deem

What is Intelligent Design (ID)?

In essence, ID is a statistical study in which the product is unlikely to occur by naturalistic process alone. For many things, especially in the arena of biology, it is difficult or impossible at this time to generate any kind of statistical model to even do the test. However, this will not always be the case. The biological model for ID will stand or fall on the basis of genetics. There is a certain statistical probability for Permanent structural alterations in DNA, consisting of either substitutions, insertions or deletions of nucleotide bases.mutations, which is absolutely known. There are also known genetic The order of nucleotides in a DNA or RNA molecule, or the order of amino acids in a protein molecule.sequences that differ from one another. Evolution claims that all life is descended from previous life, and the fossil record gives us the approximate time at which species appeared. Statistical calculations can be made on the basis of divergence. Complete genomic The order of nucleotides in a DNA or RNA molecule, or the order of amino acids in a protein molecule.sequencesare just beginning to be completed. There will always be some unknowns or uncertainties, so the level of ID will have to be pretty good to be accepted by the general scientific community.

Is Intelligent Design (ID) a valid scientific theory?

ID theory has been criticized on the following basis:

  1. No model has been presented
  2. Since there is no model, there are no predictions from the theory
  3. No refinement of the theory is possible

In an attempt to be all-inclusive, most ID proponents have failed to

  1. define the Intelligent Designer
  2. reject young-earth creationism

A nebulous theory can never be tested. The Designer must be proposed or there will be no model to test. Most of the potential Designers are described in religious works that contain statements about the natural world that can be tested against the record of the natural world. For this reason, it is necessary to identify the Designer. Because of the failure to reject the poor "science" of young earth creationism, ID has been labeled as a repackaging of scientific creationism. Deceptive or unsupported "science" cannot be allowed to be part of ID or the entire concept will be discredited.

The claim has been made that ID has no place in science and is never used in the study of science. This is not true. In fact, all of the following areas of science use evidence of ID as the major or sole means of study. Even though the designer is not a supernatural agent, but intelligent humans, the principles involved in studying these areas of science can be applied to the study of supernatural ID.

  1. Archeology: Is that rock formation natural or due to intelligent design?
  2. Anthropology: Do sharp, pointed rocks occur naturally or are they designed by intelligent beings?
  3. Forensics: Intelligent cause of death or natural circumstances?
  4. SETI: Are those radio signals natural or caused by intelligent beings?

ID is already used in many areas of science. In archeology, we know that stones don't naturally occur in square shapes piled on top of each other. They show signs of intelligent design (although the designer is not supernatural). A recent example is an underwater rock formation off the coast of Cuba. According to the discoverers, the formation consist of smooth, geometrically shaped, granite-like rocks that are laid out in structures resembling pyramids, roads and other structures at more than 2,000 feet in a 7-3/4 mile-square area. How does it exhibit intelligent design? Natural formations of rocks do not have geometric shapes arranged in recognizable structures.

ArrowheadLikewise, rocks do not naturally have pointed ends with patterns of chips along the sides. This pattern is extremely unlikely through natural processes, so we say that it exhibits intelligent design. In the science of forensics, scientists examine patterns of trauma, for example, to determine if it has a natural or intelligent cause. ID is already used in many areas of science.

Probably the best example is the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Radio waves can be produced by a variety of natural and "intelligent" processes. Naturally-produced radio waves exhibit patterns of changes in wavelength that are due to random or periodic variation over time. There is no pattern that would indicate any kind of intelligence designed the signal. However, over short periods of time, the pattern could occur by chance with the probability inversely related to the length of time that the signal demonstrates a pattern. Therefore, by examining the signal statistically, scientists can determine if its cause is intelligent or natural. Thus far, intelligent design theory has eliminated (falsified) all extraterrestrial examples of radio waves monitored as being the product of intelligent design.

Characteristics of a successful ID model

A reasonable ID model must possess all of the following characteristics:

  1. The intelligent Designer is identified
  2. The model is detailed
  3. The model can be refined
  4. The model is testable and falsifiable
  5. The model can make predictions

Flight: The Genius of BirdsHow does the biblical ID model score on the above characteristics? The intelligent Designer is identified as the Creator God of the Bible. The biblical model of creation is detailed in that the major creation events are listed in a temporal sequence. Dozens of creation passages make specific claims about the nature of the world. The model can be refined by putting together all the biblical creation passages into a coherent, detailed model. Many skeptics claim that ID models cannot be tested, but then go on to state that the biblical descriptions of nature are incorrect. You can't have it both ways! A biblically-based ID model is eminently testable and falsifiable. Contrary to the claims of opponents, the biblical model does make predictions. For example, it claims that all men are descended from one man, Noah, whereas women come from up to 4 different blood lines (see Genesis 6). One would predict from this claim that males would have lower genetic variability on their y-chromosomes, compared to the Of or referring to the mitochondria, the organelles that generate energy for the cell.mitochondrial DNA ( Genetic material found in mitochondria, the organelles that generate energy for the cell.mtDNA), which is passed on exclusively through women. Published scientific studies confirm this biblical prediction, since the last common ancestor dates for the y-chromosome tend to be less than that for Genetic material found in mitochondria, the organelles that generate energy for the cell.mtDNA(see Evolutionary Descent of Mankind Theory- Disproved by Molecular Biology).

Characteristics of Christian supernaturalism

Naturalism vs. Supernaturalism
Characteristic Anti-Supernatural Supernatural
Cosmology eternal multiverse single transcendent beginning
Time infinite space time foam finite duration
Laws of physics breakdown at 10-43 sec. fixed
Fine tuning explained by infinite # universes extreme fine tuning is designed
Probability only likely events will occur creation involved miracles that could not occur by chance

The table above gives some of the characteristics of Christian supernaturalism compared to naturalism. Contrary to atheistic assertions, the Christian ID model does not claim that the universe is perfect. The idea that a perfect God would not create a universe less than "perfect" is logically flawed. The biblical model states that the universe is "flawed" - for the purpose of allowing humans the choice to love or reject God. The model also states that this imperfect universe will be replaced by a perfect universe once its purpose has been fulfilled. Those humans who chose to love God will be perfected by their own permission into sinless, loving creatures. Why didn't God create this perfect universe in the first place? Forcing creatures to be perfect would abrogate their free will and prevent them expressing true love, since they would have no choice. Humans who want to spend eternity with God chose now to give up their ability to sin or be unloving in the future new universe, where no such choices will exist.

Predictions of the Christian ID model compared to naturalism

Because of the nature of the laws of physics, it seems likely that none of the characteristics in the above table can be absolutely known. However, there are a number of predictions that each theory makes, which can be tested by further study of the universe and life on the earth.

What are some specific predictions made by the two models?

Predictions of Naturalism vs. Christian ID
Characteristic Anti-Supernatural Christian ID
1. Single transcendent beginning will be refuted evidence will increase
2. Fine tuning "design" will be shown to be an artifact, due to incomplete knowledge more examples of extreme fine tuning will be found, indicating true design
3. Uniqueness of earth many rocky planets with oceans and continents will be found earth-like planets will be found to be rare or non-existent
4. Existence of life in the universe life will be found to be abundant in our galaxy, since it is simply the properties of chemistry and physics extraterrestrial life will be rare or non-existent and advanced life will be found only on earth
5. Prebiotic chemistry a naturalistic scenario for the origin of all biochemical pathways and replicative molecules will be found the universe was designed to support living systems, but their creation required ID by God
6. Origin of Life Life emerged late, during ideal environmental conditions. Life began as simple systems (pre-bacteria) Life emerged early under adverse conditions. Life has always been complex
7. New designs in nature Complex new designs would be rare and develop slowly whereas simple transitions would be common No restriction on designs with the possibility that new designs would be created "overnight"
8. Mass extinction events Slow recovery No restrictions on "recovery" period as new species are created

What is the scorecard so far? Science tells us that:

  1. There is no evidence for more than one universe or more than one creation event.
  2. Examples of fine tuning continue to increase. Some parameters designed to within a part in 10120.
  3. Rocky planets matching the general characteristics of planet earth have been few. Most planets found are large gas giants orbiting very close to their stars. Rocky planets orbiting red dwarfs or stars larger than our Sun are not candidates for life since they suffer from tidal locking and insufficient short wavelength light to support photosynthesis (small stars) or have short stellar lifetimes (less than one billion years for larger stars).
  4. No other life found. SETI has been completely unsuccessful.
  5. It is impossible to chemically produce many basic molecules required for origin of any living system.
  6. Naturalistic synthesis of either biochemical nor replicative pathways have not been described. In fact, many scientists think that they could not have arisen by any naturalistic means.
  7. Contrary to the expectations of evolutionary theory, the fossil record is replete with complex transitions and new designs whereas simple transitions (intermediates) are rare. Evolutionary theory would expect the opposite to be true and to be reflected in the fossil record.
  8. Evolution predicts slow recovery following extinctions and that those recoveries will be filled by the species surviving the extinction event. However, the fossil record indicates rapid recovery with completely different designs and species appearing within a period of tens of thousands of years or less.

Intelligent Design 101: Leading Experts Explain the Key IssuesBook Review: Intelligent Design 101: Leading Experts Explain the Key Issues

Intelligent Design 101 is a short, good introduction into the arguments for intelligent design theory from leaders in the field. If you have hesitated to buy one of the more specific books on intelligent design because of fear of getting lost in the technical discourse, this is a good way to get introduced to all the areas of discussion without getting bogged down in too many technical details. Once you have finished this book, you will be ready to take on some of the more detailed aspects of the theory, with an understanding of the basic concepts and issues. More...

Creation As Science: A Testable Model Reasons To Believe's third in a series of books proposing a testable creation model takes on the origin and design of the universe. Previous books, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off and Who Was Adam?: A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man, examined the origin of life on earth and the origin of mankind, respectively. Creation As Science develops a biblical creation model and compares the predictions of this model compared to a naturalistic model, young earth creationism, and theistic evolution. This biblical creation model is divided into four main areas, the origin of the universe, the origin of the Solar System, the history of life on earth, and the origin and history of mankind.

The Edge of EvolutionThe Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism by Michael Behe

Darwin's Black Box author Michael Behe takes on the limits of evolution through an examination of specific genetic examples. Behe finds that mutation and natural selection is capable of generating trivial examples of evolutionary change. Although he concludes that descent with modification has occurred throughout biological history, the molecular devices found throughout nature cannot be accounted for through natural selection and mutation. Behe's book claims to develop a framework for testing intelligent design by defining the principles by which Darwinian evolution can be distinguished from design.

The Cell's Design: How Chemistry Reveals the Creator's ArtistryFazale Rana (Ph.D. in chemistry), vice president of research and apologetics at Reasons To Believe, has written a new book, The Cell's Design: How Chemistry Reveals the Creator's Artistry, that attempts to show that cellular biochemistry points to the existence of the Creator who designed it. Whereas most intelligent design books attempt to show the existence of design by demonstrating the existence of irreducible complexity, Dr. Rana examines the cell's biochemistry with broad strokes of how everything works together with such marvelous fidelity. So, even if a single piece or line of evidence might be dismissed as a statistical outlier, the weight of evidence makes a powerful case for design by a Creator.

Today's New Reason to Believe
Integrating Science and Faith

Science News Flash
Science News Flash
Last Modified June 22, 2008


Rich's Blog