I would like to hear the Christian perspective on a question I asked on Philosophy SE.

Intelligent Design (ID) proposes that certain features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. While proponents argue that ID should be recognized as a scientific theory, critics often assert that it lacks scientific legitimacy.

Do Christian supporters of Intelligent Design believe that it meets the essential requirements to be considered a scientific theory, as per their perspective? If not, do they view this lack of scientific rigor as an issue? How do Christian proponents of Intelligent Design address criticisms that argue it is not a scientific theory?

To address this question, I would like you to keep in mind some essential characteristics and criteria that a scientific theory must fulfill in order to be regarded as one. This would include but is not limited to:

  1. Falsifiability: Does Intelligent Design make testable predictions that, if proven false, would contradict its central claims?

  2. Empirical evidence: What empirical evidence supports or refutes the claims made by Intelligent Design?

  3. Methodology: Does Intelligent Design follow established scientific methodologies, such as proposing hypotheses, conducting experiments, and engaging in peer review?

  4. Consilience: Does Intelligent Design integrate with other scientific fields and theories, fostering a cohesive and interconnected body of knowledge?

  5. Naturalistic explanations: How does Intelligent Design address the requirement of offering naturalistic explanations, which is commonly expected within scientific inquiry? (See methodological naturalism.)

  6. Consensus within the scientific community: What is the general opinion among experts in relevant scientific disciplines regarding the recognition of Intelligent Design as a scientific theory?

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    You have asked for a "Christian Perspective" and have then gone on to ask no less than six philosophical questions.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 3 at 16:43
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    What is the Christian perspective of two and two being four ? There is none : it is a mathematical question, the outcome being judged by mathematical terms and rules, not by spiritual considerations or Christian principles.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 3 at 17:32
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    I vote to keep this Q open because if we define ID a religious cosmology seeking explanation of why nature exists, but ALSO tries to pass itself as a scientific system (part of the more general philosophy of nature seeking explanation of how nature works), then C.SE is the right venue for this type of ID proponents to defend its qualification AS a worthy scientific system by showing how it meets the prevailing first 5 conditions identified in the Q. Keep in mind that there are Christians who do NOT see ID as a scientific system, but only as a valid Biblical religious cosmology. Jun 5 at 13:13
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    Modern science is empiricism, which means it's based on observations for the establishment of facts which must be accounted when theorizing. Ergo, scientific theories are falsifiable. ID and other creationism arguments often hang on empirical data, and so qualify as science, but they also often find themselves between the gaps of modern scientific understanding. They thrive where science doesn't have clear understanding, and so the history of their arguments are mostly long lists of things that were interesting decades ago, but have since been tidily explained with naturalistic theories.
    – fredsbend
    Jun 5 at 16:54
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    ID and creationism science is a "God of the gaps" phenomenon.
    – fredsbend
    Jun 5 at 16:56

7 Answers 7


1. Does Intelligent Design make testable predictions that, if proven false, would contradict its central claims?

Yes. I'm not going to try to summarize, but ID's predictions tend to revolve around science failing to determine viable mechanisms for producing various observed features via any purely naturalistic mechanism. For the most part, these predictions have so far proven correct.

(Cue scoffers whining that "a God-of-the-gaps argument is not much of a 'prediction'". While there is a certain amount of truth to this, the purpose of such predictions is that they are falsifiable; that is, if it could be shown that design is not necessary for life to exist, that would refute ID. While it's true that the positive case for ID is partly based on absense of evidence, the idea that we cannot accurately infer the action of intelligence is ludicrous. Archaeologists and forensic scientists do exactly that all the time. SETI endeavors to do so; thus far without success. There is no non-philosophical reason why such inferences should be excluded from biology.)

Of course, ID makes or made many other predictions or retrodictions which are confirmed by our current knowledge. Several of these can be grouped as "supposed evidence against ID will turn out to be incorrect" and cover topics such as "vestigial" organs (that aren't) and "junk" DNA (that isn't), and "poor" design (that actually serves a purpose). In general, life simply looks like design was involved.

See also:

Although you asked about testable predictions, a related criticism is whether ID (or, more accurately, the detection of apparent design) is falsifiable. The answer to that is clearly "yes". ID prefers to eschew design where non-design can be shown to be a plausible alternative, much as methodological naturalism prefers to eschew miracles where a non-supernatural explanation is feasible. Thus, all that is necessary to falsify a design hypothesis is to show that a purely natural causal chain can produce the observed effect. This is true not only for ID, where design detection is applied to biology, but for other fields that attempt to detect design such as archaeology or forensics.

For more on falsifiability, see:

2. What empirical evidence supports or refutes the claims made by Intelligent Design?

Sorry, I don't feel like writing a book. Please read one of the excellent books available. 🙂 (Suggestions at end of Answer.)

Very briefly, we simply don't have any evidence that an organism can change sufficiently to become a totally novel organism. Indeed, we have no evidence that natural selection can produce anything truly novel outside of some very strict bounds. What we do have is any number of features that are consistent with design.

3. Does Intelligent Design follow established scientific methodologies, such as proposing hypotheses, conducting experiments, and engaging in peer review?

It certainly tries to, and the ID space does publish. ID is hampered in this respect, however, by extreme philosophical hostility. "Mainstream" journals automatically reject anything that even hints of ID, and funding is a serious problem, particularly as materialists tend to do everything possible to deny funding to ID research.

That said, it should be noted that ID is mostly a historical science. We don't presently have the ability (and perhaps never will) to design organisms for ourselves, so much of ID research is more akin to paleontology; that is, not so many experiments in the sense you'd expect from, say, material science.

4. Does Intelligent Design integrate with other scientific fields and theories, fostering a cohesive and interconnected body of knowledge?

This is a difficult question. While ID certainly does not ignore other fields, it's unclear how it contributes to, say, materials science. (Of course, it's unclear what materialism has to offer, as well.) This, however, should not be seen as a difficulty, any more than paleontology is invalidated by having minimal application to particle physics.

Perhaps a better response is to not that ID is not inconsistent with other branches of science, aside from those with which it directly competes. In particular, it is not inconsistent with any observational science.

5. How does Intelligent Design address the requirement of offering naturalistic explanations, which is commonly expected within scientific inquiry?

First off, it needs to be clearly stated that requiring only naturalistic explanations leads to incorrect science. Consider a bicycle. If one excludes intelligent causes, it is going to be very difficult to arrive at a correct explanation of how the bicycle came to exist. Similarly, if an intelligence is responsible for life, ruling out that possibility a priori is obviously going to lead to incorrect conclusions being drawn.

The question ID attempts to answer is "was intelligence involved?" This is a philosophically neutral question, as it does not presume to speculate on the nature of the intelligence. As far as ID goes, it does not (directly) rule out the possibility that terrestrial life was designed by an intelligence which originated via purely naturalistic processes. (Of course, if ID is correct, the origin of this potential designer is likely to represent a serious difficulty.)

6. What is the general opinion among experts in relevant scientific disciplines regarding the recognition of Intelligent Design as a scientific theory?

The most meaningful thing I can say here is that it is highly polarized. It may be worth observing, however, that there is substantial pressure brought to bear against ID; individuals expressing sympathy to ID are subject to any manner of social and economic reprisals.

Some comments with respect to the responses on Philosophy.SE:

Lots of potentially "science" subjects become non-science when their advocates hold by them despite blatant refutations.

...and if you think this doesn't apply to materialism, well...

There are many lines of evidence that present serious challenges, not only to Abiogenesis and Common Descent, but also to the idea that Earth is billions of years old. Yet adherents still insist on calling their beliefs "science".

The KEY to being science is not the outward forms, but the openness to and willingness to search for refutations. And the ID community is NOT open to reconsidering its basic assumptions, nor looking for refutations.

When is the last time you encountered a materialist that was open to reconsidering their basic assumptions, or looking for refutations? Given how trivially easy it is to find such refutations...

When we start digging for evidence we don't find a lot of intelligent designers, or a lot of designs that appear to be the products of active intelligence. Instead, we find what appears to be a slow drift of living things changing to optimize within ever-changing environments.

While it's true that those who are out to avoid God at all costs have a hard time "finding" Him, the claim that we don't find apparently-intelligent designs is utterly duplicitous. Indeed, Richard Dawkins, one of the best known defenders of Common Descent, defines biology as "the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose". People that claim something "doesn't look designed" are almost always desperately trying to deny Design. Claims of "slow drift" are largely unsubstantiated (what we actually see is suddenÂą "appearance" followed by relative stasis) and involve a healthy dose of wishful thinking, particular through the assumption (which is itself questionable) that life has been around for millions of years.

(Âą Materialists would argue that "sudden" is a relative term, to which ID says a) "produce the intermediates" and b) demonstrate how life can get from A to B within the relatively short time period that is available. Particularly around the Cambrian Explosion, the complexity of known organisms takes a giant leap forward in what seems to be a period of time that does not seem adequate to account for the degree and diversity of change.)

[Intelligent Design] would be treated as a failed theory, because of the extremely poor evidence in its favor and the vast amount of evidence that contradicts it.

Evidence is subject to interpretation, and many people feel that the evidence very much supports ID, and that there is little evidence against it (and that most such can be explained as a result of entropy acting on a design that occurred in the distant past).

Media Bias rates [Evolution News(?)] as a "Strong conspiracy website based on promoting biblical verses as science. We also rate them low for factual reporting for the same reason."

This is just hilarious. Ignoring the obvious pro-materialist bias (a group which has a significant history of known fraud), the Discovery Institute isn't even a Christian organization (some of its members are Christian) and many of EN's articles make no mention of God or Scripture. Ironically, such attacks are worthwhile for revealing materialism's true agenda, which is not seeking the truth but attacking Christianity. Therefore, they view anyone who does not completely embrace materialism is a traitor to their anti-Christian crusade, and consequently believe such people must support what they are trying to oppose.

Why should something that works at small scale not work at large scale, given enough time?

Why should it? Real life is full of examples of things that work at small scale but either run into diminishing returns or fall apart entirely when attempting to scale up.

Actually, this ties directly into ID predictions, one of which is "the ability of organisms to adapt will exhibit hard limits". Essentially, what we see is organisms adapting within the limits of existing information and around local maxima. Common Descent requires the existence of a gradual slope from A to B, along which "fitness" either never decreases, or only decreases in jumps that can be "skipped over" by concurrent mutations. The existence of such slopes, however, is an assumption that has not been demonstrated, and actual observations argue against the existence of such a slope.

Is ID "science"? It's proponents certainly feel that it is, although they're clearly biased. It's opponents think it isn't, but are no less biased. A trite article on the internet is hardly the best way of answering the question. Instead, I cannot recommend strongly enough to read some books by ID proponents, especially those published in the last few years. (Noteworthy authors include Douglas Axe, Michael Behe, William A. Dembski, Michael Denton and Stephen C. Meyer.)

  • Just deleting the comments, you guys can rehash it in the chat room already posted
    – Peter Turner
    Jun 7 at 17:09
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    @PeterTurner, alas, now the comments are simply gone (and I'm going to replace the one you left with this, since its context is gone). Anyway: PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Comments are not for extended discussion. Use this room for discussion. Comments posted here will be answered and will be summarily flagged.
    – Matthew
    Jun 7 at 17:27

All the Christians I know who believe God to be the intelligent designer creator of this universe have great sympathy with the I.D. stance, and agree with a lot of it. So, at the outset, I would emphasize that I'm not attacking answers showing a scientific view from proponents of I.D. All I am doing here is flagging up what one Christian, who is also an eminently qualified scientist, points out as problems with claims that I.D. is "scientific". Here is a quote from his book:

"Firstly, it embroils people in a pointless debate over whether or not ID is 'science'. My own view is that ID is an inference drawn from science rather than part of science itself. It is not alone in this respect. There is a vast amount of speculation concerning the nature of reality that, because it is promoted by scientists, is thought to BE science when it is nothing of the kind. One glaring example is the 'multiverse' concept often advanced to 'solve' the riddle of quantum mechanics or to account for the anthropic principle (the fact that our universe is ideally suited for intelligent life). There is not the slightest scientific evidence - or any other kind of evidence if you rule out UFOs - to support the multiverse concept. It can never be more than an inference from scientific data. It might or might not be true, but that is something we shall never know.

"Science leads us to its boundaries where it introduces us to philosophy. For example, it tells us that the laws of nature exist, what those laws are, and what they accomplish. But it can never tell us why they are as they are - for that we need God, turtles or the multiverse (take your pick). ID as an inference from science is just as legitimate as the multiverse and, in my view, much more so. Of course, you are free to define science in such a way as to include its philosophical implications, but if you do you cannot be selective - you must admit ID alongside the multiverse and any other theory that can be neither proven nor falsified by scientific data. Or else you must exclude ALL such theories from your definition of science.

"A second problem with ID is that it lacks any philosophical bedrock, such as the hypothesis of God - the foundation I am striving to establish in this book. Thus ID can be accused of adopting a God-of-the-gaps mentality because it concentrates on the intractability of complex biological systems while leaving the rest of the universe to naturalism. This narrow focus leaves it vulnerable to such accusations and means that it is just as compatible with life from Mars or little green men as with divine creation. I find this rather unsatisfactory." Who Made God? Searching for a theory of everything, pp 209-210, Prof. Edgar Andrews (EP Books 2009) [Bold emphases mine.]

He then goes on to point out that his 'hypothesis of God' does not suffer from these objections. It sees intelligent design [without capitals] in everything, from bacteria to battleships, allowing God the freedom to work through law, providence, miracle and the mind of man. Also, it's not an inference from science but rather provides the foundation of science - the law-abiding nature of the universe - but does so without imprisoning God by the laws He has Himself created.

Now, I hope you appreciate this author and I are not ID-as-a-scientific-system supporters, yet without saying there is no intelligent design at work in our universe! There is! By the bucketload! We credit God with all of that intelligent design. However, that does not require us to support ID as a scientific system as presented by some others. So, no ad homien attack here! A lot of sympathy, actually.

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    It's true that the nature of the Designer, if supernatural, may lie outside science. If identifying that there is a designer isn't science, then archaeology and forensics aren't science either.
    – Matthew
    Jun 4 at 17:11
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    Great answer in contrasting intelligent design (without capitals) vs. Intelligent Design (as a Christian philosophy trying to be a scientific system). I concur with your final paragraph. I think Intelligent Design (with capitals) is the Christian counterpart of the Atheistic Materialism, both being 2 example positions in cosmology seeking explanation of why nature exists, while a scientific system with the 6 properties identified in the Q is part of natural philosophy seeking explanation of how nature works. Jun 5 at 12:29
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    @GratefulDisciple while most ID proponents are Christian, some are Muslims, deists, etc.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 5 at 12:38
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    "This narrow focus leaves it vulnerable to such accusations and means that it is just as compatible with life from Mars or little green men as with divine creation. I find this rather unsatisfactory." This sounds like a dissatisfaction with a screwdriver because it doesn't hammer nails well. ID has an intentionally limited scope. It's OK to be dissatisfied with that scope, but that's not an argument against ID being scientific.
    – LarsH
    Jun 5 at 14:36
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    @Graham The multiverse concept shows how science starts to morph into philosophy without many people noticing where science ends. That's the point. Many people acclaim this idea as if it was scientific. Prof. Andrews flags that up but not many other scientists do. He is Emeritus Prof. of Materials Science in the Uni of London, England, has PhD & DSc degrees in physics and has published over 100 scientific research papers. His book 'From Nothing to Nature' has been translated into 10 foreign languages. He's worth paying attention to (but he isn't 'mine'.)
    – Anne
    Jun 5 at 17:44

The core of ID really comes down to one fundamental claim:

Physical systems cannot generate more complex, specified structure than is put into them. This is known as "conservation of information".

Demsbki, one of the primary ID theoreticians, wrote an entire book on this topic.

This claim is entirely empirical and testable. Note this long list of academic publications on the topic by William Dembski.

We can also prove mathematical theorems about this claim. Hence, at least this aspect of ID is a science.

Furthermore, since the conservation of information is central to ID, if it is falsified then the entirety of ID is falsified, this makes the entire theory falsifiable and consequently scientific.

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    Could you please expand your answer with a few sources? Despite the brevity, what you said sounds very insightful, but some official sources backing it up would be quite helpful.
    – Mark
    Jun 5 at 23:22
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    I think this is a helpful explanation (and sources) for one of the main areas of the ID argument. And it's true that the CoI claim is falsifiable, which contributes to its status as a scientific argument. But I would disagree that the core of ID really comes down to this one claim (there are several other significant parts), or that the falsification of this one claim would falsify the entirety of ID (the parts are interrelated but independent to some degree).
    – LarsH
    Jun 7 at 14:31
  • If CoI were false, then natural processes can create CSI, so no need for a designer.
    – yters
    Jun 7 at 14:54
  • Even taking all of the given assumptions as true, note that the Earth could be slowly radiating information from its vast core out to its surface, which would make the surface appear to increase in complexity over time. This is not unlike how the amount of helium on Earth is conserved (and slowly decreasing, lost to space) but we are able to dig more helium out of the crust by mining, making it available for use.
    – Corbin
    Jun 7 at 16:02
  • Such a scenario can be constructed for any conservation law. E.g. see Youtube for many videos that appear to contradict conservation of energy. This does not mean the conservation of energy is unfalsifiable or unscientific. Likewise for conservation of information.
    – yters
    Jun 7 at 16:26

Neither Intelligent Design nor Evolution fit the criteria. These are philosophical questions. We can identify the likelihood of past events based on current knowledge, but it is impossible to prove one way or the other.

  • Falsifiability: Does Intelligent Design make testable predictions? No. Neither does the belief that everything happened by chance. What we can look at is whether things we see come together today happen by chance or by design.

  • Empirical Evidence: This has been answered ad naseum in many places. If none of the evidence that has already been presented is good enough, nothing I say will be either.

  • Methodology: Intelligent Design only goes against "science" if we accept Evolution as science, but evolutionary theory does not meet the criteria for an actual scientific theory any more than creationsim does.

  • Consilience: Yes! ID absolutely does fit in with verifiable science. The only branch of science it is at odds with is evolution, which is just as unverifiable as creation, and does not meet the basic requirements to be a scientific theory.

  • Naturalistic Explanation: ID provides a source, a reason, and a framework for the way things are, for where the laws of nature come from, for why we function the way we function.

  • Consensus: That's pretty hard to quantify when proponents of Intelligent Design either keep quiet or get doxxed, but it is pretty telling that those are the two options for proponents of ID.

  • 6
    "Does Intelligent Design make testable predictions? No. Neither does the belief that everything happened by chance." Ouch. Both certainly do make predictions. CD, for example, predicts that we will find intermediate forms and genetic leftovers. There are quite some problems with CD, but labeling it 'entirely philosophical' is neither accurate nor helpful. (OTOH, your point under "Consensus" is well put...)
    – Matthew
    Jun 4 at 23:58
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    "Neither does the belief that everything happened by chance." Straw man. Evolutionary theory does make predictions. "Naturalistic Explanation: ID provides a source, a reason, and a framework for the way things are, for where the laws of nature come from, for why we function the way we function." No, it doesn't. Jun 5 at 4:10
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    I'd like to point out that we had several rather clear, observable instances of evolution recently, during the covid pandemic - We saw thousands of mutations occur, the advantagous ones outcompete the less helpful ones and spread globally. That's why we got strains considerably more contagious than the original strain, and why, at great cost, vaccines had to be rapidly updated to keep up with the disease. What is that if not direct proof that the mechanisms of evolution hold true?
    – lupe
    Jun 7 at 13:57
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    Most relevantly, the testable predictions evolution makes are: 1. Organisms accumulate changes that can be passed on - proved 2. Changes that are advantagous spread throughout the population, and are conserved - see my example of covid 3. Over long time scales, this accounts for the diversity of life we see today - This is harder to prove, but I have never been shown a good example of a complex feature that cannot be broken down into simple, advantagous mutation steps
    – lupe
    Jun 7 at 14:04
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    @lupe No one (at least between evolution and ID) argues whether the mechanisms of mutation and natural selection exist. The argument is over whether those mechanisms have the power to explain the full diversity of all life, including wildly different body plans and even kingdoms.
    – LarsH
    Jun 7 at 14:40

There is a classic debate adage that is highly relevant to many an internet disagreement: When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the facts are not on your side, pound the table.

Even one who is relatively new to a subject-matter under discussion can learn much by observing which strategy a debater employs. If one's arguments themselves are clear & rational, it is unnecessary to resort to ad-hominem, name-calling, or extreme comparisons.

Note that appeals to motive are but a specific case of the ad-hominem fallacy. Whether or not a specific hypothesis for the origin & order of life is scientific, rejecting a hypothesis on the basis of proponents' motives, rather than evidence, is decidedly unscientific.

Additionally, if a person believes in some form of intelligent design it no more entails agreeing with everything said by a given intelligent design organization than does believing in some form of Christianity entail agreeing with every pronouncement of every Christian denomination.


The basic argument for design

At its heart, intelligent design is making a claim that is also made in other scientific disciplines:

P1: X is the only known cause of Y

P2: Y is observed

C: X caused it

Any time complex written script is found etched in stone, archeologists posit (correctly) an intelligent agent behind the writing, even if that intelligent agent cannot be directly observed. While wind, erosion, natural cataclysms, etc., can cause scratches in rocks, archeologists recognize that the Rosetta Stone was not produced by natural causes, but by an intelligent agent.

Archeology is using the same abductive argument described above.

The study of archeology would collapse if it were never possible to determine whether an artifact was created by humans or by natural processes. If intelligent design is pseudoscience on the basis of the basic argument outlined above, then archeology relies on much pseudoscience as well.

The OP asked about intelligent design in general rather than a specific writer's intelligent design argument; those wishing to reject intelligent design in general as un-scientific cannot simply critique one specific intelligent design argument--they must reject the basic argument (above) that intelligent design proposals have in common. This has proved exceedingly challenging to do, because the basic argument is shared with other scientific disciplines.

Specific proponents of intelligent design may build upon the basic argument any number of ways and, of course, it is certainly possible for a proponent of intelligent design to make other claims that are not scientifically rigorous (just as it is possible for an archeologist to make a great error), but it would be fallacious to throw out the basic argument because someone using it also said something else that was unscientific.

A specific application of the basic argument is specified complexity: complex information wherein a "precise arrangement of characters...allows the sequence to produce a specific effect" (Meyer, Darwin's Doubt p. 168) .

  • P1 would be that intelligent agents are the only known cause of specified complexity.
  • P2 would be that cells exhibit specified complexity.

Both of these claims are scientific in nature, as will be explored below.


Questions of demarcation

The OP provides 6 principals of demarcation as to what is scientific and what is not. The question of demarcation is itself complex (e.g. see Larry Laudan's The Demise of the Demarcation Problem), and aside from falsifiability, just about any proposed criteria for qualifying as "scientific" has exceptions (e.g. testability is a popular criteria, but much of theoretical physics fails the testability test; repeatability is a popular criteria, but studies of events in the past often fail the repeatability test, etc.)

Nonetheless, I'll offer a response to the 6 criteria that were suggested:

Falsifiability: Does Intelligent Design make testable predictions that, if proven false, would contradict its central claims?

The basic argument, applied to specific complexity, is highly vulnerable to falsification. Premise 1 could be falsified if a single example of naturally-occurring specified complexity were found. Premise 2 could be falsified if it could be shown that cells do not contain specified complexity. Both premises are based on data and can be tested.

A number of predictions have been made from the study of intelligent design--the most famous is that function would be found in so-called "junk DNA". This was predicted by William Dembski in 1998 and confirmed by the ENCODE project in 2012 (source).

Stephen Meyer provides a more thorough survey of predictions in Appendix A of his book Signature in the Cell. A few of them are briefly mentioned below:

  • No undirected process will demonstrate the capacity to generate 500 bits of new information starting from a nonbiological source.
  • Informational accounting will reveal that sources of active information are responsible for putatively successful computer-based evolutionary simulations.
  • Investigation of the logic of regulatory and information-processing systems in cells will reveal the use of design strategies and logic that mirrors (though possibly exceeds in complexity) those used in systems designed by engineers. Cell biologists will find regulatory systems that function in accord with a logic that can be expressed as an algorithm.
  • Sophisticated imaging techniques will reveal nanomachines (turbines) in centrioles that play a role in cell division. Other evidence will show that malfunctions in the regulation of these machines are responsible for chromosomal damage.
  • If intelligent design played a role in the origin of life, but not subsequently, prokaryotic cells should carry amounts of genetic information that exceed their own needs or retain vestiges of having done so, and molecular biology should provide evidence of information-rich structures that exceed the causal powers of chance, necessity, or the combination of the two.
  • If a designing intelligence acted discretely in the history of life, the various subdisciplines of biology should show evidence of polyphyly.
  • The fossil record, in particular, should show evidence of discrete infusions of information into the biosphere at episodic intervals as well as a top-down, rather than bottom-up, pattern of appearance of new fossil forms.
  • If the flagellar motor was intelligently designed and the type-3 secretory system devolved from it, the genes that code for the bacterial flagellar motor should be older than those that code for the proteins in the T3SS, and not the reverse. Alternatively, if the T3SS and the flagellar motor arose by design independently, T3SS should have unique (nonhomologous) genes that are not present in the genome for the flagellar motor.
  • The functional sequences of amino acids within amino acid–sequence space should be extremely rare rather than common.


Empirical evidence: What empirical evidence supports or refutes the claims made by Intelligent Design?

For premise 1: minds producing complex, functional information is a well-known phenomenon. Humans (who possess conscious minds) producing such information can be directly observed. I'm observing it right now while I type this. Generation of such information through natural processes has never been observed (note that computer software which generates novel information is acting upon instructions that were provided by an intelligent designer--aka a programmer). The Rosetta Stone (mentioned previously) is a clear example of something human minds are known to be able to produce, but wind and rain are not.

For premise 2: that DNA uses a chemical version of digital code is indisputable.


Methodology: Does Intelligent Design follow established scientific methodologies, such as proposing hypotheses, conducting experiments, and engaging in peer review?

Yes. Gathering examples of premise 1 would be supported by the same methodologies employed by archeology. Premise 2 is a direct result of hypotheses, experiments, and peer review that has elucidated the structure and function of DNA.

A number of falsifiable hypotheses were mentioned in the previous section.

Re peer-review, yes. A few examples:

by 2005 many excellent books and articles—including several important peer-reviewed books—had already been published on different aspects of the theory of intelligent design. In 1996, Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe made a detailed case for intelligent design based upon the discovery of nanotechnology in cells—such as the now famous bacterial flagellar motor with its thirty-part rotary engine. Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box sold over a quarter of a million copies and almost single-handedly put the idea of intelligent design on the cultural and scientific map. In 1998, William Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher with two Ph.D.’s ... followed suit by publishing a groundbreaking work on methods of design detection. Dembski’s work, The Design Inference, published by Cambridge University Press, established a scientific method for distinguishing the effects of intelligence from the effects of undirected natural processes (Meyer, Signature in the Cell p. 9)


Consilience: Does Intelligent Design integrate with other scientific fields and theories, fostering a cohesive and interconnected body of knowledge?

Yes, the intelligent design movement was reborn in the late 20th century as a result of the discoveries of biology. It employs methods common to other historical sciences, such as geology or archeology.


Naturalistic explanations: How does Intelligent Design address the requirement of offering naturalistic explanations, which is commonly expected within scientific inquiry? (See methodological naturalism.)

Methodological naturalism is a means of testing a hypothesis. It does not require that the universe is in fact naturalistic. Metaphysical naturalism is a philosophical worldview that rejects all non-naturalistic explanations a priori.

Intelligent design employs methodological naturalism in the study of cells and information. The observable facts about cells that are addressed by proponents of intelligent design are not disputed by other professionals who study cells. The disagreement is on the inferences drawn from those facts.

Intelligent design does not employ metaphysical naturalism -- to do so would be to engage in philosophy, not science. Intelligent design may carry metaphysical implications, but rejecting a theory because it has metaphysical implications would also require rejecting the modern synthesis of Darwinism. (see Meyer, Darwin's Doubt p. 391)

Efforts to smuggle metaphysical naturalism into science are rather effectively exposed by comments such as the following statement by geneticist Richard Lewontin:

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door" (Billions and Billions of Demons p. 28)

Lewontin said the quiet part out loud.

The claim that only naturalistic evidence and naturalistic explanations should be considered is itself unscientific: it isn’t falsifiable. Any non-naturalistic evidence (whatever that might be) would have to be discarded from consideration, and therefore be unavailable to falsify the claim. The a priori decision to rule “out of scope” any contrary evidence is as contrary to the scientific method as it is possible to be.

If defenders of the scientific method are looking for smuggling of philosophical worldviews into scientific inquiry, and they've settled upon intelligent design as a target, perhaps they are looking in the wrong direction.

(This is not to say that a proponent of intelligent design could not smuggle a theistic philosophical worldview into their work too--but the focus of this post is the idea of intelligent design in general, not a specific author's work. I won't reject biology as pseudoscience because some specific biologists have smuggled in metaphysical naturalism. However, the critical point to note here--commonly seen in academia and very bluntly admitted by Lewontin--is that mixing metaphysical naturalism with science is a problem occurring at a far greater scale in modern academia than is mixing theology with science)


Consensus within the scientific community: What is the general opinion among experts in relevant scientific disciplines regarding the recognition of Intelligent Design as a scientific theory?

Of the 6 criteria, this is where intelligent design will struggle the most. Experts in relevant scientific disciplines generally agree with the empirical claims about cells that are cited by proponents of intelligent design, but hostility towards the idea of intelligent design is exceedingly common. As the OP noted in comments elsewhere, cross-posting this question to multiple Stack Exchange sites has been an interesting social experiment, and it has laid bare examples of this hostility.

A representative example is the publication--and later apology-- by the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington of a biology-based argument for intelligent design in 2004. When the Society apologized for publishing the article:

it did not invite a scientific refutation of the article, as if the problem had been a misrepresentation or misinterpretation of the evidence. Instead, it attempted to settle the issue by releasing a policy statement. As a writer in the Wall Street Journal reported at the time, "The Biological Society of Washington released a vaguely ecclesiastical statement regretting its association with the article. It did not address its arguments but denied its orthodoxy." (Meyer, Darwin's Doubt pp. 384-385)

Ecclesiastical? Orthodoxy?

A more detailed discussion of the incident, and the retaliation & defamation suffered by the editor who originally agreed to the article's publication, can be found here.

So the general consensus of the scientific community is not favorable towards intelligent design. However, as a challenge to the validity of this criterion, it is worth acknowledging that Galileo's model of heliocentrism, Newton's theory of gravitation, more recently the theory of plate tectonics, and other major advances in scientific knowledge, were originally rejected sharply by the scientific community1.


Engaging with other views

US court ruling

The US court system is often cited as an authority for determining that intelligent design is pseudoscience. I am at a loss as to why--save desperation--one would appeal to judges to defend this claim.

Furthermore, this is the same court system that decided that tomatoes are vegetables, and, far more consequentially, decided that some human beings are sub-human or "not human persons". The Dred Scott decision should give pause to anyone using the US court system in an argument from authority on matters of science or philosophy.


Shannon information

It is easy to make an apples-to-oranges comparison in a discussion of complex information. If we are trying to distinguish between information generated by a mind and information generated by something else, the amount of information is not terribly useful on its own. Supercomputers generating random words can quickly generate more information that the entire literary output of humanity prior to the 20th century, but those random words would not have much functional meaning. For a random process to generate the works of Shakespeare, the time needed would be far, far beyond the entire lifetime of the universe (see here).

"Shannon information" considers the amount of uncertainty removed by a piece of information--it's focus is on the complexity of the information. However, it says nothing about the specificity or the function of that information.

Intelligent design isn't focused on Shannon information, it is focused on specified complex information. Comparisons showing that machines (or anything else) can produce large quantities of Shannon information are quite irrelevant to intelligent design.


Tree rings

Are tree rings--preserving meteorological details from past years--an example of naturally occurring specified complexity?

This is an interesting idea...but I do not see how tree rings meet the burden of proof. Scientists can construct an intelligible "message" describing high-level meteorological details by lining up tree rings for past years. But unlike human language, DNA, or computer code, the tree rings could be rearranged in any possible sequence and still produce an intelligible message. The message would be false in all but 1 of these arrangements, but whether a message contains specified complexity and whether a message is true are entirely independent variables.

For several million corroborating examples that these variables are independent, see the collection of specified complexity on this website: www.twitter.com



Some see AI as a possibility to reject the claim that only intelligent minds produce specified complexity. To date, AI has not done this--it still relies upon programmers to provide specified complexity, goals, prompts, training files, etc.

The future of AI invites all manner of interesting questions. AI may at some point refute the claim that only intelligent minds produce specified complexity -- and proponents of intelligent design should be open to falsification of this hypothesis. But appeals to what AI may do in the future are simply begging the question. Claiming that AI will do this is assuming the very thing that needs to be proven.



The basic argument for intelligent design is scientific in the same way that archeology is. It is falsifiable, it allows predictions to be made, and it makes inferences to the best explanation.

That some specific proponent of intelligent design has been less-than-rigorous in their scientific inquiry does not indicate that the basic argument itself is unscientific or cannot be used in rigorous, scientific research.

If intelligent design is seen as a threat to the dogma of metaphysical naturalism, that's a good thing. If there are those who oppose intelligent design out of a desire to protect rigorous scientific inquiry (rather than out of preference for metaphysical implications), we should reasonably expect that such individuals are even more passionate in eliminating metaphysical naturalism from science.

1 - Because I mentioned Galileo there's an obligatory footnote. Common wisdom says that Galileo was on the side of science and he was rejected by "big religion", providing a clear example of the dangers that religion poses to science. Besides the fact that it was Galileo's Christian faith that led him to ask the questions he did, the "common wisdom" does not in fact describe what occurred. Abuse of power is not a feature specific to religion, it is a feature general to human nature. But Galileo wasn't rejected by blind appeal to dogma--Galileo had scientific critics who recognized the weakest point in his hypothesis and used it to reject his claims: stellar parallax. Galileo's claims relative to stellar parallax were confirmed in 1838, but at the time many academics treated Galileo's work as the 17th-century equivalent of pseudoscience.

  • 3
    The only pity with this fairly brilliant answer is that it was posted just 6 hours ago, after the question was effectively closed. However, it deals with all the issues in a calm, considered manner, which is just what this emotive subject needs!
    – Anne
    Jun 7 at 11:49
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    As Anne indicates, it's a pity that you are bit late to the party, but this answer definitely deserves to be the accepted one. Please, enjoy your well-deserved check mark.
    – Mark
    Jun 7 at 12:26
  • 2
    @Mark you are assuming that this post was designed, rather than being a chance result of natural processes =) Jun 7 at 14:15
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    @Mark forgive the tongue-in-cheek humor. When I was designing this post it started getting very long, so it made sense to choose either specified or irreducible complexity as the focus. I do not have formal training in mechanical engineering, but I do have formal training in computer science & language, so focusing on specified complexity seemed sensible. Jun 7 at 14:19
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    "Are tree rings--preserving meteorological details from past years--an example of naturally occurring specified complexity?" No, and this is trivially demonstrated. The string "NkUJWIucgcEUmQEHTBvxknXLP7P5ubEYBI9ZMo14" is a record of the state of my computer's PRNG, but as established in this Answer, random information is not specified. In fact, the output of any random process is a historical record of some sort. But future events, if they can be specified, aren't complex, and if they can't be, recorded information about them can't fit the definition of "specified".
    – Matthew
    Jun 7 at 18:18

Perhaps it is, or perhaps it isn't. It may or not be better to say it's more along the natural philosopher idea of the nineteenth century. But the true fundamental tenants of science are held: that beliefs of the natural world may be tested by such tools available to us; and repeatability of the tests on what we predict we should be able to observe and what we predict we should not be able to preserve is the deciding factor.

Intelligent Design is built piece by piece on Robert Clarke's life game. The player plays the part of Plato's Demiurge. We shall apply all of our knowledge and all of our skill and all of our imagination and we shall devise worlds and from them worlds upon worlds and we shall devise how life could be. I have seen many play this game; amusingly more atheists than Christians these days. Much of this is drawn directly from Michael J Denton's Nature's Destiny. Some bits have sources I've long since lost but if you dig you might actually find them, or you might not.

Come, let us reason, and let us imagine how life could be. Let us set forth the strata and the matrix, let us add the building blocks, let us provide within it the spark of new life and watch it grow. Shall it live? Shall it stall and die because the cycle was incomplete. Shall it overrun the universe and choke itself. Shall it endure?

At this stage a few people drag out floaters in Jupiter or even energy-life within the sun. Please don't. That is missing the point of imagination. Do not imagine what until you can imagine how. How might these things be. What holds their structure together. What gives them form. What homeostasis do they have? How do they grow? How do they process energy? How do they avoid killing themselves. (And an evolutionist has also to answer How could these come to be? but Christians can actually ignore that.)

And then to each we may tighten down the parameters and see if we truly did it well. When you fill in real chemistry (or metachemistry if you started with different laws of physics as has actually been tried in this century) for the basic building blocks you can actually start to learn things. You learn things like the building blocks must be stored fully oxidized in the environment if you intend to use oxidation to power advanced life; for otherwise a runaway fire would consume everything. You learn that your users of photosynthesis cannot move on dry land because they simply don't have enough power to do so. The choice of photosynthetic plants and moving animals is fixed. The choice of the fluid with which to dissolve is fixed. The choice of the gases to distribute is fixed.

And at the end of the game you learn how life as we know it is tuned beyond all expectations. The chemistry back-applies and most things that life uses are actually the optimal solution; and in many cases the only workable solution available with the laws of physics as they are. And on seeing this the universe looks to have been designed in advance to be host to life.

And then you crack open the cells and look within. You examine the proteins and find that despite their apparent bulkiness they are well-tuned machines and it would be difficult to do better. You look at the information storage and find that you can't do really all that much better. There aren't better choices than the double helix in use because chemistry doesn't allow another set of bases, and other solutions don't like being dissolved in water. And if you try to write another genetic code you discover as can be easily tested the current code is within 1% of optimal (some might call this a failure. Why isn't it actually optimal? We can't answer yet; but this isn't a problem. If we tinkered with the human body we could improve it more than 1% with incremental small changes but this isn't considered a failure either).

And if you fancy you crack open the genes themselves and read the genetic code. And perhaps you see what I see from afar. For I see the exons are very like computer code and the introns are like comments in computer code. This actually checks out mathematically. There is a statistics test that can tell natural language from all fakes developed before the test became known. When applied to computer code it generates a near match. The exons are that near match; and the introns are an exact match as though they really are natural language we cannot read. And the parallel is even more exact than the scientists guessed when they understood how introns were removed. Introns are marked at the beginning and end with palindromic sequences, which is after the fashion of certain computer languages; however it's possible to read too much into that because this also provides a simple way for introns to recognize the other end of themselves. RNA is auto-catalytic.

I tell you also that to me (this paragraph and only this paragraph is original source: me) finding similar genes to do the same things in similar organisms is one of those well duh kind of things. Given my own experience as a computer programmer the parallel is too exact. I tell you the truth; I predicted it in some fashion before learning it was true. In my industry we call it copy-paste-and-modify and it's a bad practice because for maintainability reasons, but the code of life needs no maintainability. Did I just argue my way out of comments? No, no I didn't. It's not well known, but the size of a multicellular organism's DNA is not predicted from the number of genes it uses but strictly from other factors. This means there's no reason to remove the comments before activation, so they remain.

If you can read the comments in the genetic code I want to know about it; but I know for a fact somebody actually tried all reasonable encodings of English and couldn't find an encoding that worked. It's not English. Actually reading the comments would settle intelligent design rather permanently but I have no hope of ever managing to read them. The best guess is Ancient Hebrew but with a lot of vocabulary we don't even have so good luck with that.

This is the point here: this has been done and continues to be done as a scientific discipline to look into life as it is; test all that we can learn all that we can, and only then seek applications. What we can't test in life or in the lab we take a gamble on testing via computer simulation. I saw in Scientific American long ago a real attempt at probing the physical constants to see what other meta-chemistries could exist. And what they found was what ID had predicted years ago; there are no other solutions. Search with all their might they did find another set of physical constants yielding another universe that was potentially life sustaining, and it was very similar to our own, only electric charges were flipped and the proton-neutron mass ratio was flipped and thus rather than favoring atoms with a few more neutrons than protons it favored atoms with a few fewer. I would have predicted they found exotic periodic tables and we could play the game again with a new periodic table but that didn't happen. There's only one periodic table.

  • If this answer were a Wikipedia article, it would be replete with citation needed tags.
    – Mark
    Jun 7 at 12:03
  • 1
    @Mark: Paragraphs 2-6 are all Nature's Destiny mixed with college biology and high school chemistry. The main citation in paragraph 7 will be hard to track down. I was not expecting to have to cite a science magazine I read more than a decade ago.
    – Joshua
    Jun 7 at 13:34

Speaking as a PhD level experimental physicist, all current theories of evolution by random processes violate the "2nd Law of Thermodynamics", which is usually stated with two assertions:

  1. Any isolated system, left to itself will devolve into increasing disorder and chaos.
  2. Increasing the order within any system requires an expenditure of energy from the outside.

This law, the violation of which has never, ever been been observed in the history of science, ergo, an empirically observable and experimentally testable law, is compatible with ID, leaving ID as the only scientifically compatible explanation for any observable, predictable order, anywhere in the universe, from viruses to DNA, to bicycles, cars, trains, airplanes, space-stations, planets, stars, or galaxies.

  • 2
    You unfortunately don't understand thermodynamics. The earth is not a closed system. You can have local increases of order if order decreases elsewhere, and the earth has a continuing input of energy. Please, I'm begging you, read up on this one, because it is categorically wrong and I am very concerned for your Phd
    – lupe
    Jun 7 at 10:36
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    @RestOfTheBothWorlds I posted a question about that: Does Intelligent Design (ID) entail an infinite regress of designers, and if so, is that problematic?
    – Mark
    Jun 7 at 11:52
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    @Anne - nope, sorry, it's still a critical misunderstanding of thermodynamics. Local increases in order are acceptable, as long as the system as a whole becomes less ordered. For example, if you crystalize salt out of water - the salt increases in order, forming lattice like structures. The water decreases in order, as it is no longer held in a loose structure by the sodium and chloride ions. In this case, complex living structures can form, because there is a constant input of energy from the sun, created by a breakdown in order in atomic structure in the sun
    – lupe
    Jun 7 at 12:31
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    @Anne - I was making no such claim, but I'm happy to argue this out in chat. My sole claim was that AFL is fundamentally incorrect about the second law of thermodynamics ruling out evolution. He is wrong, it does not, and if his arguement held true, salt could not precipitate out of water.
    – lupe
    Jun 7 at 13:48
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    The objection raised here has frequently been rebutted.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jun 9 at 0:25

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