Posted by: Dan | September 27, 2006

Bad arguments on the testability of ID

I have no time, nor intention had I the time, to go to the Cornell IDEA club meeting tonight, to teach some undergrad non-biology majors about science and biology – it really ends up to be too much of a circular discussion, revolving around trying to explain 150 years of science (which is a tough thing to condense and explain) to their incredulous minds… kinda feels like teaching geology in Bible School.

Anyway, I hear the topic for this week will be on testability and falsification, with among the suggested readings being: Intelligent Design is Empirically Testable and Makes Predictions by Jay Richards and Jonathan Witt of the Disco Institute on their Evolution News and Views site.

Let’s take a look, shall we? Richards and Witt start off by conceding that their inference regarding the Designer’s existence is, in fact, not testable or falsifiable. End of story, right? Nope – the rest of the essay is a qualifying statement, arguing that while the theory’s conclusion may be unproveable, it can prove other things. So ID as a theory is like a car who’s engine won’t start, but the parking brake still works. Ok, gotcha.

From there they use Behe’s hypothesis that biologists will not uncover “a continuously functional Darwinian pathway from a simple precursor to the bacterial flagellum and, moreover, any detailed evolutionary pathway that is articulated will presuppose other irreducibly complex systems.” The problem is, that’s not a testable hypothesis, it’s a vague statement that contributes absolutely nothing to or against the big picture of the Tree of Life.

They then discuss Gonzales and Richards Privileged Planet (the argument that we can tell that life and the cosmos were designed because Earth is uniquely suited to scientific discovery in a way that would have been impossible on other worlds):

The most decisive way to falsify our argument as a whole would be to find a distant and very different environment, which, while quite hostile to life, nevertheless offers a superior platform for making as many diverse scientific discoveries as does our local environment. The opposite of this would have the same effect—finding an extremely habitable and inhabited place that was a lousy platform for observation.

So, really, we just have to do science on another planet. Ok, that’s testable, at least in concept if not at the immediate time, and pretty vague about what science would constitute falsification of their Privileged Planet concept. Their concept however, due to its vague nature, is easily amenable to “goal-post” moving, and is completely retrospective. If you’ve seen the video, you’ll know what I’m talking about – they piece together old data and suggest that, a-ha!, it must’ve been that way on purpose.

What they don’t do, again, is make a novel hypothesis, and test it, to discover anything about the Universe that we didn’t know before – i.e. it contributes nothing to science.

So I don’t know about the parking brake analogy, but none of these concepts contribute anything whatsoever to the advancement of biology or cosmology. They do, however, paint a rosey picture of Richards’ and Witt’s view of the world, based on old and oddly arranged evidence.

And the bottom line is, which I’ve said before: If ID is testable, stop talking about testability, and test it.


  1. Of course ID is experimentally testable. Chiefley is running an experiment to verify ID right now.

  2. True, there’s always that sort of experiment, which is of course the sort of experiment that we’d expect scientists to at least try, without it being a joke, if ID was a workable theory.

    Another good one would be MikeGene’s experiment on smurfing the bacterial flagellum.

    ID and these experiments go hand in hand – you can’t laugh at one and not the other.

  3. Oh, and there’s plenty of ID research going on, but the Discovery Institute can’t tell us about it – *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*

  4. Wee Willy Dembski has a new web site targeted at kids,, where I ran across this:

    An atheist in support of ID by “EJ Klone”.

    Other than the Raelians, I don’t know of any atheists who actually support ID. DaveScot over at Uncommon Descent claims to be agnostic, but from his writings this is clearly a charade. David Berlinski of the Discovery Institute is agnostic, but he is on the record as not endorsing ID, only “questioning Darwinism.” I suspect this “EJ Klone” will turn out to be just as bogus.

  5. Oooooh, that site’s getting added to the creation list!


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