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Sunday, February 20, 2005

In the NYT Magazine, there is a small piece by Jim Holt about intelligent design. The point Holt is making is of the traditional burlesque variety - the often incredible “sloppiness” of design of creatures in nature that so often renders them so unfit that they go extinct argues, at the very least, that the intelligence doing the designing is of a low order. However, Holt’s piece includes a paragraph we can’t let go by:


“From a scientific perspective, one of the most frustrating things about intelligent design is that (unlike Darwinism) it is virtually impossible to test. Old-fashioned biblical creationism at least risked making some hard factual claims -- that the earth was created before the sun, for example. Intelligent design, by contrast, leaves the purposes of the designer wholly mysterious. Presumably any pattern of data in the natural world is consistent with his/her/its existence.”

This is wrong, and it is the wrong way to go to overthrow ID. A testable proposition usually means one in which observations can be hooked to quantities of some kind. Those quantities are what make possible predictions – and, in fact, it is often the quantitative effect one is watching. ID, like any theory, tells us enough about the world that we can look around and see whether what it says relates to what we find. So, the old burlesque principle (did Adam have a navel, yuck, yuck) is not going to cut it.

What should we look for if ID is true? Our post here gives you the background. To cut to the chase: where there’s a watch, there’s a watch factory. The increasing complexity of design entails a parallel increase in material evidence for that design. Thus, ID is as testable as any other theory – if that material evidence is spotty, then ID would be disputable. That the material evidence, so far, is completely and seamlessly non-existence makes it a good bet that ID is less likely to be true than, say, medical astrology. That its advocates have never lifted a finger to find the material trail that leads to ID events shows pretty much that we are dealing with buncombe artists – which do seem to infest the ranks of the evangelical set.

Unfortunately, those who argue against ID are so convinced that it is nonsense (understandably) that they don’t take it seriously enough to ask about its consequences. If they treated it more seriously as a theory, its gross inaccuracies would more quickly expose it as nonsense.

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