Intelligent Design: The Final Word, Part 1

I am finally ready to write some definitive thoughts about Intelligent Design. I just finished reading Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box from 1996, and I’ve thought about it from the perspective of science, falsifiability, religion, and philosophy. I would like to be very careful about where I plan and do not plan to take issue with him, so let me start in Part 1 by delineating the argument.

First of all, the eponymous designer of ID need not be divine, says Behe, and I agree completely. It could be an alien species, or something way beyond our understanding, but non-divine. ID is not inherently theological. So this discussion will have nothing whatsoever to do with God or religion. Religious folks may want ID to become a political movement so they can impose their views into everyone’s lives, but that is the problem of those religious folks, and does not bear on ID’s validity.

Secondly, I will not contest any of Behe’s descriptions of various biochemical systems. The cilium, blood clotting, etc., are all assumed to work the way he describes, including the “irreducible complexity” of these systems (more on that in later parts, of course).

We both agree, further, that the earth is 5 billion years old, that Darwinian evolution does in fact take place in many domains (including the descent of man from a common ancestor with apes, the origin of new species, all that good stuff). ID does not deny these things, so we needn’t discuss them.

We both reject the counterargument to ID that goes like this: If an intelligent designer designed our cilia, or our blood clotting system, or our eyes, then he could have made them more efficient/effective/symmetric/beautiful or whatever, and so they were not designed. This argument requires an understanding of the motivation of the designer, as well as a claim to completely understand all the tradeoffs involved in the functioning of these systems, which no one has. We will not be discussing this argument further.

Any new scientific theory will be treated with skepticism, and ID touches religious nerves which makes this an especially complicated issue to deal with. I am not going to make the mistake of dismissing ID based on my own concerns about the political ramifications, or the granting of power to religious interests. I am attempting to understand Behe’s arguments on his terms. I want to know whether ID can be a truly testable, falsifiable scientific theory that stands on its own. I want to understand this because if it passes this test, then I invite it to be taught in science classrooms. If it fails this test, then I will join the fight to keep it out of the science classroom, where it can do no good and can do quite a bit of harm.

A few further clarifications are in order. I am not making the assumption that science is a good system. I am not requiring you to agree that science enhances our sense of wonder and of the divine. I do not claim that scientists are automatically benevolent, or are smarter than anyone else. I am not claiming that scientists should be the sole trustees of ethical decisions concerning technology. I am not trying to pass a value judgment on science itself, in other words. I may do so in future writings, but I am leaving it out of the discussion of ID. I am only studying a very narrow question:

Given that science is the study of natural phenomena, where testable, falsifiable models (a.k.a. theories) are proposed and measured against nature through controlled experiments, is Michael Behe's theory of Intelligent Design a scientific theory?
Avatar
Greg Langmead
Machine Learning Engineer

I am a software engineer and mathematician. I work on NLP algorithms for Apple News, and research homotopy type theory in CMU’s philosophy department.