Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Is Intelligent Design a Theory?

Advocates of ID frequently assert that "evolution is a theory, not a fact." The implied distinction between "theory" and "fact" is faulty, since the scientific meaning of "theory" is "a consistent explanation [of some phenomena] that is capable of being tested." A theory's truth status may then be true ("fact"), untrue, or uncertain. (Or for my Bayesian friends, we have varying degrees of confidence in a theory's truth.)

Anit-evolutionists frequently seem to think "theory" means "unproven speculation." But it does not.

A more interesting question is, is intelligent design a theory? The answer is no. One major flaw (hardly the only one) is that ID is based on the notion that "we can't imagine how such and such a thing could have evolved, therefore it must have been created." (This is, in its essence, Michael Behe's "irreducible complexity.")

There are multiple problems with this position. First, it takes our ignorance ("we can't figure out how such and such could have evolved") and treats it as a statement about the phenomenon "such and such" rather than our own knowledge.

Second, the "therefore" isn't warranted. Why does ID become the default? This is simply a preference, or bias.

Third, what is testable about "creationism?" ID advocates are careful not to identify a designer, since to do so would be to admit that this is just thinly disguised creationism. But what sort of theory is it that says "life is too complex to have evolved, therefore it must have been designed by some super-designer?" What designer? How do you propose to test this designer's existence, and how do you propose to test the hypothesis that it actually designed anything? And where the heck did the designer come from?

No answers are forthcoming, and no tests are proposed, because these are beside the point. ID is not theory and not science. It is religion, and very shallow religion at that, pretending to be science.

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