Theology of Creation,
Scientific Evidence,
and Education

Intelligent Design — Can it be scientific?

includes Sections 1-3, and this page has Section 4:
1. What is a theory of intelligent design? 
2. Intelligent Design as a semi-inclusive Big Tent 
3. ID and Apologetics, Natural Theology, Naturalism 

4. Intelligent Design — Can it be scientific? 
      4a. Attitudes — Why are so many so confident? 
      4b. Should we allow ID in public school classrooms? 
      4c. Why don't ID-scientists publish in science journals? 
      4d. Can Intelligent Design be authentically scientific? 
      4e. Can we find scientific support for (or against) design? 
      4f. Can ID be useful in science, either now or in the future? 
      4g. Is methodological naturalism always useful in science?

In this page, Section 4 asks a big question — Can a theory of Intelligent Design be authentically scientific? — in the seven smaller questions you see above.  A related question — Are theories of Design supported by the current scientific evidence? — is examined more closely in EVALUATIONS OF EVOLUTIONS and BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION.  All of these questions (and those from Sections 1-3) are related, and most authors look at more than one aspect of design.  But an author usually looks at some questions more closely than others, and thus the seven sub-sections in this page.

      4. Can intelligent design be authentically scientific?

      4a. Why are so many so confident? (an overview of attitudes)
      To help us understand the intensity of emotions during discussions of design, we can think about a model of science proposed by Larry Laudan involving mutual interactions between goals, methods, and theories.  Most people want their own ideas — including their VIEWS OF SCIENCE (about its goals, methods, theories) and their VIEWS OF THE WORLD (used for living in the world) — to be logically consistent.  This desire for consistency produces mutual interactions within their framework of ideas (about science, worldviews,...) with each influencing the others, producing adjustments that improve the overall logical harmony of their framework.
      One result of this internal self-consistency is that vigorous advocates for each view of origins are confident that they have The Answer, and those with other views seem so obviously wrong (because their ideas don't fit logically into our framework) that they must be either deceiving themselves or trying to deceive others.
      Often the result is sharply contrasting views about the foundations of rationality, about the kind of arguments that are persuasive, or even allowable.  When two sides cannot even agree about the ground rules of arguing, we shouldn't be surprised when they "talk past each other."  They aren't trying to listen, learn, and understand, since they're in a "debating mode" and are just trying to win.

      In an effort to improve the situation, this website tries to promote accurate understanding and respectful attitudes by helping readers get the best arguments from all sides, and recognize that sometimes people on "the other side(s)" do have some rational reasons for their views.
      One example of a productive approach is The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side Is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate.  In this excellent book, Del Ratzsch explains how "arguments that should not persuade constitute an unfortunately high proportion of the popular artillery on both sides."  Because "the popular caricatures that reign in this area... make confident choice appear supremely simple" there is a tendency "for favorite ideas — on both sides — to be credited within their respective camps with a status they really do not deserve.  Indeed, each side can see the case as so utterly closed that the very existence of opponents generates near bafflement."  Instead, Ratzsch encourages us to "carefully study, with an open mind, the evidence and logical counter-arguments presented by opponents, in an attempt to accurately understand the logical support for other positions and why someone might hold these positions, to see what things look like from another point of view."
      In Design Theory and its Critics: Monologues Passing in the Night, Del Ratzsch reviews an 800-page book edited by Robert Pennock, and provides an overview of ideas — about Naturalism (Methodology and Beyond), Science & Substance, Theology — and attitudes. (45 k)   Since he is reviewing a book that is strongly anti-ID, Ratzsch defends the rationality of ID.  But he (and you) could do a similar critique of pro-ID arguments, to defend the rationality of some counter-arguments against ID.
      Another example of trying to accurately describe the strong and weak aspects of proposals from both sides (and thus avoid a "debating mentality") is Loren Haarsma asking "Is intelligent design scientific?" and answering "yes, no, and maybe" — YES in some ways, NO in some ways, and MAYBE in others.

      Why do most people usually say "YES!" or "NO!" but rarely "yes, no, and maybe"?
      • It's partly due to the intellectual simplicity of an all-or-none position, with a desire for internal self-consistency, for believing that all of the most rational arguments support their own view.
      • Another reason for simplicity of positions — and intensity of emotions — is the practical importance of the questions being debated, especially for their potential applications in education:

4b. Intelligent Design in Education?
Most proponents of Intelligent Design want their view to be represented in education, either directly (by teaching ID as an alternative to evolution) or indirectly (by including evidence both for and against evolution).  And most opponents of ID want to keep it out of public education.  Common strategies for excluding ID are to criticize it philosophically and say "ID isn't science," or criticize it scientifically and say "ID is bad science," or both, and then claim that in the science classroom we should teach only science (but ID isn't science) or only the best science (but ID isn't the best).
      For example, George Gilchrist claims that ID has low scientific status (or no status) because ID isn't published in science journals and he concludes his page with a claim about educational policy: "Until intelligent design theory can be shown to have any status as a scientific theory of biological organization, it has no place in a biology curriculum."
      Intelligent Design is a major theme in ORIGINS EDUCATION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS which looks at Freedom and Responsibility, Legality and Constitutionality, Methods of Teaching, and Educational Policies, with pro-ID and anti-ID arguments proposing philosophical and scientific reasons to either include or exclude Intelligent Design (or intelligent design), plus questions about religious neutrality, effective teaching, and school policies.   ID is also a theme in pages for ORIGINS EDUCATION in Christian settings (in church, private schools, and home schools) and informal situations (in websites & newspapers, television & movies,...).

      4c. Why doesn't Intelligent Design publish in science journals?
      Do advocates of Design publish in peer-reviewed science journals?  And if not, why not?
• The basis for this argument against ID-in-Science is outlined in The Elusive Scientific Basis of Intelligent Design by George Gilchrist: "Because professional scientists must publish their work to retain their jobs and to obtain funding, the relative status of intelligent design theory and evolutionary theory can be assessed by comparing their frequency of usage in the professional scientific literature. ...  Is intelligent design theory actually used by scientists?"  He looks at the literature and says NO, "if any science supporting these views has been done, it is quite well hidden."  And he concludes his page with a suggested policy application for education.
• The ID community agrees that ID publications are rare, but some alternative explanations for "why?" are in an FAQ from IDEA-Center, Why isn't intelligent design found published in peer-reviewed science journals?  (four short answers in 2 k, and four long answers that include many ideas from William Dembski; total is 103 k)

      EXPELLED (the movie!) claims to show strong anti-ID pressure in the current community of scientists.
• In 2008, for awhile the homepage of ASA featured this controversial movie, and now Expelled: ASA Responds offers links to a wide range of views from prominent organizations (NCSE, AAAS, Discovery Institute, Reasons to Believe) plus discussions on the ASA-list, comments from the Executive Director of ASA (Randy Isaac, who says "Ben Stein stressed simplicity and actively avoided complexity [which is the main theme of expert science/religion scholars like John Hedley Brooke] in the movie... a veneer of superficial truth masked a wealth of complexity that was ignored presumably to avoid confusing the audience"), a comprehensive essay by Jeff Schloss (The EXPELLED Controversy: Overcoming or Raising Walls of Division?), and responses from ASA members.
Academic Freedom and Evolution by Casey Luskin  (5 k)
• IOU — more from each view will be here later

Paradigm Shifts in Geology (Geosynclinal Theory & Plate Tectonics) and Biology (Darwinism & Intelligent Design) by John Wiester, asks if these situations — in the history of geology and in current biology — are analogous.  (10 k + 2k)

• In the late 1990s, Michael Behe (author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, published in 1996) submitted papers to science journals, but his papers were always rejected.  In 2000, he documented his experiences in Correspondence with Science Journals: Response to Critics Concerning Peer-Review.  (21 k)
Why is Intelligent Design not published in science journals? by Craig Rusbult, is a summary (with commentary) of Behe's "correspondence" page.  (16 k)
• IOU — responses to this will be found or will be written by others

• What happened when the editor of a science journal (Richard Sternberg) published a pro-ID paper by Stephen Meyer?  There was lots of excitement, as described in Intelligent Design and Academic Freedom by Barbara Bradley Hagerty for National Public Radio  (4 k)
Researcher claims bias by Smithsonian by Joyce Howard Price for Washington Times  (4 k)
Deja vu All Over Again by Chris Mooney, who compares two papers (in climate science & evolutionary biology) and says "proponents of a fringe...scientific viewpoint seek added credibility" but haven't earned it.  (10 k)
Science's New Heresy Trial: A Smithsonian-backed editor is defrocked by the priesthood of science for publishing an article on Intelligent Design, by Gene Edward Veith.  (5 k)
The HomePage of Richard Sternberg with the journal-editor's summaries (6 k) of the publication and results.
ID Paper Continues to Attract Scrutiny by the National Center for Science Education, summarizes (in 7 k) four articles — from Nature, Chronicle of Higher Education, Science, and by Chris Mooney — and links to its own pages and The "Meyer 2004" Medley (with links and blog-responses) from Panda's Thumb, plus a two-part response (11 k & 38 k) by Discovery Institute, home base of the author, Stephen Meyer.

And more generally (beyond just ID in journals) eventually we'll have a separate links-page devoted to "evaluations in science" because this is an important topic that deserves to be examined more carefully, in more depth and breadth.  Most scientists are interested in the complex factors affecting acceptance or rejection of papers (and grants), and many scholars — especially those who study science and scientists from the perspectives of history, sociology, psychology, and philosophy — are interested in the effects of the cultural-personal factors that operate in a complex social context involving individuals, the scientific community, and society as a whole.

      4d. Can intelligent design be authentically scientific?
      This question requires four answers because, as explained in Section 1 of INTELLIGENT DESIGN IN SCIENCE, there might be four types of intelligent design:  • design of nature,  • undetectable design-directed guiding of natural process, and detectable Design-directed action by a natural agent (•) or supernatural agent (•).   In Sections 1-3 and in this page, capitalized terms (Intelligent Design, ID, Design) refer to a claim for detectable design-directed action, and uncapitalized terms (intelligent design, design) can refer to any of the four designs, depending on context.

      This section is an overview of rational arguments for including Intelligent Design in science, and rational arguments for excluding it.  But these arguments are often considered irrational by opponents who are overly confident and have "sharply contrasting views about the foundations of rationality, about the kind of arguments that are considered logical and persuasive, or even rational and allowable."

      Here are some of the questions we're examining in this page:
      What does "authentically scientific" mean?  How should we define science and non-science? and is this demarcation useful?
      What are the main
      If scientists think a feature probably was not produced by non-Design (by undirected natural process), is it logical to conclude that this feature probably was the result of Design?  or should we avoid this type of argument because it is based on our temporary ignorance?  What are the many meanings of "GOD OF THE GAPS"?  Why are some Design theories accepted as being scientific, while others are controversial?
      What should we conclude when a scientific evaluation, using evidence and logic, is not conclusive?
      In what ways can a rigid methodological naturalism be useful and non-useful for science?  What are the limits for what can claim to be science, and for what science can claim to explain?  If a Design theory does not try to explain the details of Design (the how, why, and who), is this a weakness or a logical recognition of limits?
      Design theories make claims about the history of nature, but (due to the limitations of historical data) is historical science inherently unscientific? or is it scientific yet limited? in what ways?  What are the similarities and differences between a mechanistic theory and agency theory?

      In this section, the web-pages cited as resources are general, covering many topics.  And even when the main theme of a resource-page is more specific, as in the earlier and later sections, most authors discuss a variety of questions about design and science.

Whether ID is Science isn't Semantics by Alvin Plantinga, who says that Judge Jones "gave two arguments for his conclusion that ID is not science;  both are unsound."  (12 k)  /  responses to Plantinga, pro-ID (6 k) and anti-ID  (4 k + comments)
• IOU — This section needs more resources, including counter-arguments about the judicial decision of Judge Jones in the Dover Trial, although eventually most of this (re: trials,...) will be in the links page for EDUCATIONAL POLICIES.
Why Intelligent Design is not Science by the Union of Concerned Scientists  (2 k)
Why intelligent design is not accepted by most scientists by the National Center for Science Education  (5 k)
Intelligent design is not science by Denis Alexander  (5 k)
Historical Science - Mechanism & Agency, Unobservable Causes, and Miracles by Craig Rusbult (4 k);  and Intelligent Design — Should it be allowed in science? summarizes a wide variety of arguments (re: testability, plausibility, future science, methodological naturalism,...) for seriously considering theories of Intelligent Design.  (30 k for Sections 7B-7C;  but also relevant for thinking about ID are 1C, 6A-6B, 5A-5G, 7A and 7D, with an extra 70 k)
Design: What Scientific Difference Could It Make? by Del Ratzsch  (41 k + 24k, PSCF)
Responses to Arguments (philosophical & scientific) against Intelligent Design by the pro-ID blog, Uncommon Descent  (104 k)
• Jeff Mino "looks briefly at the common arguments used against ID, including arguments from methodological naturalism, falsifiability, productivity, and religious fundamentalism... and suggests a need for a methodology of studying nature that exists alongside traditional science yet is not based on the precept of MN," in Science or Sience.  (37 k + 3k, PSCF)
IOU — This section needs more web-resources -- for example, we'll find a similar article (like Mino's above) by opponents of ID, and more.

Flock of Dodos — is a documentary film (2006) about the advocates and critics of Intelligent Design, and
Wake Up, Dodos ("making light of a dry, but important topic") by Anthony Dick, is a moderately anti-ID review for National Review  (9 k)  [IOU: later there will be more reviews & essays, both pro and con, about Dodos]


      4e. Can we find scientific support for (and against) Intelligent Design?
      By using the methods of science, can we detect the results of Intelligent Design (and thus infer a process of design-action), in principle and in practice?
When ID is defined as above, Intelligent Design involves detectable Design-action, which in principle we could potentially detect using the methods of science, but in practice could we actually detect it?  And why do all scientists think we can infer Design-action by a natural agent, but many don't think we could detect Design-action by a supernatural agent?
      All of us confidently claim to detect design intuitively when we observe a system (a house, newspaper, radio, radio show, car,...) with parts that seem to be carefully organized to achieve a purpose, that we think were not produced and assembled by non-Design (by undirected natural process).  Although we all agree that some types of design can be detected, there is disagreement about claims for Design in biology.  Claims for the scientific detectability of Intelligent Design in biology are usually defended in three ways:
      • through an appeal to the logic of mutual exclusion:  because a feature was produced by either non-Design or Design (when these are carefully defined), if we scientifically determine (using the standard methods of science) that it probably was not produced by non-Design, then we should conclude (using simple either-or logic) that it probably was produced by Design. *
      • in a related method, Design theorists (led by William Dembski) claim that observable "signs of Design" can be scientifically detected if analysis of information shows there is significant specified complexity.
      • an argument by analogy claims that because we can use logic (based on mutual exclusion) and/or analysis (of information) to scientifically detect design-directed action by natural agents (Dn) in non-biological systems, in a similar way we could detect the design-directed action of a generic agent (either natural or supernatural) in biological systems.

      * The logic of mutual exclusion can be used to support a claim that Design is falsifiable, because the plausibility of Design varies inversely with our scientific estimates for the plausibility of non-Design (which in conventional science is testable using empirical observations) — when the plausibility of non-Design decreases, the plausibility of Design increases, and vice versa — so Design is empirically responsive and is testable;  it is falsifiable if we can conclude that a Design theory is probably true (if all non-Design theories seem highly implausible) or is probably false (if any non-Design theory seems highly plausible);  Design is "falsifiable" if, as suggested below, we think in terms of plausibility rather than proof.

      Is an immediate conclusion necessary?
For most questions about the history of nature, currently the evidence for non-Design is strong and a confident conclusion that "yes, it was non-Design" seems scientifically justifiable.
      But for a few questions the evidence-and-logic is less clear, and saying "we can't be sure at this time" seems justifiable.  For these difficult questions, is it necessary to decide "yes or no" immediately?  Or would it be more rational to just say "maybe" and think about levels of plausibility until we know more about these difficult questions? 
      What should we conclude if a scientific evaluation is not conclusive, and why?  When we're comparing theories of Design and non-Design, which has the burden of proof (and how much proof is required) and which gets the benefit of doubt (and how much doubt is allowed)?  Or should we temporarily postpone a binary yes-or-no conclusion?

      Can we detect two other types of design?
Science probably cannot distinguish between natural process that was or wasn't initially designed, but... to explain why our universe is "just right for life" we currently have three plausible theories (two design, one non-design) and maybe scientific evidence-and-logic, now and in the future, can affect the plausibilities for these explanations.   INTELLIGENT DESIGN OF NATURE IN OUR UNIVERSE?
      And science probably cannot distinguish between natural process that was or wasn't supernaturally guided in a natural-appearing way, but it seems possible to detect design in a sequence of events even if each individual event was natural-appearing, as explained in Detection of Natural-Appearing Guidance.

      Disagreements about Design
The major proponents of Intelligent Design are confident that their logical analysis (based on mutual exclusion and complex specified information) is scientific, and that it supports their claims for Design.  But opponents of Design vigorously disagree, claiming that these methods are not sufficiently rigorous (or informative) when applied to evolutionary history, and that the results of evidence-based analyses do not support claims for Design.
      There is also disagreement about the standards for acceptance:  is proof required (for either Design or non-Design) or is plausibility sufficient?

Web Resources
• In the first three pages of ARN's FAQ — What is ID? How can we detect ID? How does ID apply to biology? — Mark Hartwig contrasts the intuition-based Design argument of Paley with modern methods (based on specified complexity) for detecting Design.  (14 k total)
• The second half of the TalkDesign-FAQ (beginning with "What are the ‘scientific’ arguments used to support Intelligent Design?", 15 k) explains why scientific reasoning does not support the claims made by ID.   Jay Richards disagrees, and in his overview of what ID is and is not he explains why "the more scientifically sophisticated we get, the stronger the argument for intelligent design."  (10 k)
• IOU — we'll find Dembski's description of specified complexity,... (some possibilities are at end of page) and counter-arguments (from TalkOrigins or TalkDesign?)
• and we'll find counter-arguments, either custom-written specific responses or already-written general arguments]
Miracles, Intelligent Design, and God-of-the-Gaps by Jack Collins, explains the difference between science-gaps (due to our inadequate knowledge) and nature-gaps (where natural process couldn't produce a feature) and claims that science might be able to detect a nature-gap  (29 k + 22k)  

• then we'll cite specific areas (for pro-and-con) in bio-E, chem-E, design of nature


      4f. Can Intelligent Design be useful in science?
      A theory can be scientifically useful in two ways, by plausibility (contributing to our search for truth) or practical utility (stimulating future research, leading to productive experiments or theoretical analysis).  When we define the scientific usefulness of a theory, what is the relative value of its plausibility (whether it seems likely to be true) and utility (for stimulating scientific research)?  More generally, what are the goals of science, what methods & theories will help us achieve these goals, and what are the mutual interactions between goals, methods, and theories?

Plausibility — is any ID-theory likely to be true?
This is a question in many resource-pages throughout this links-page, and is the main theme in the link-pages for CHEMICAL EVOLUTION and BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION.
• Here is an example of a typical debate about plausibility (mixed with other questions):  Devolution: Why intelligent design isn't by Allen Orr (28 k) and a response by William Dembski (15 k)

Utility — is any scientific research stimulated by ID?
Can Intelligent Design Become Respectable? by Kelly Smith, a critic of ID  (18 k)
Gauging Intelligent Design's Success by William Dembski (2003), the first three sections — A Method for Detecting Design, Detecting Design in Biology, The Argument-from-Ignorance Objection — cover the basics of Design theory, and the fourth section, Potential Impact of Intelligent Design, is most relevant for thinking about "utility in science."

• dialogue between Robin Collins and Paul Gross:  Collins "proposes a mediating position" in which ID is not a scientific theory because details of its explanation "cannot be filled in using other branches of science," but ID may be scientifically useful "as a hypothesis that could potentially influence the practice of science."  Gross thinks this view "is no mediation; it just attempts by various means to reinforce a central claim of the ID movement, that mainstream science unfairly and unnecessarily excludes ID from the study of life’s history,... [but] in light of the massive evidence, the exclusion is both fair and necessary."  (Collins - Gross - Collins - 15 k total)  /  also, Collins has a longer analysis of ID (50 k) and so does Gross (25 k)

• dialogue in early 2001:  Is Intelligent Design testable? by William Dembski (January 24),  The Big Tent and the Camel's Nose by Eugenie Scott (February 12),  Teaching Intelligent Design: What Happened When? by William Dembski (February 27)  (27 k, 11 k, 16 k)  /  Dembski's first paper, responding to a lecture by Scott (that doesn't seem to be available on the web), was a topic for discussion on the ASA email list so Jack Haas made a hybrid page with list-comments (31 k) interjected at appropriate places in Dembski's paper. [where to use this? theory structure? big tent for Feb 12 & 27?]


      4g. Methodological Naturalism — Is it always useful in science?
      Should a scientist use methodological naturalism by assuming (and concluding) that everything in history has occurred by natural process?  Is flexible methodological naturalism — beginning an investigation by assuming "it happened by natural process" but treating this as an assumption to be tested rather than a conclusion to be accepted — an option for a scientist?
      In our search for truth about the history of nature, what are the advantages and disadvantages of non-flexible methodological naturalism (MN)?  Is MN violated by a basic theory of Intelligent Design that does not explicitly propose supernatural action, but does allow it and may imply it?  How can MN be scientifically useful and non-useful?  Is MN an essential part of scientific method and science?  These questions are among those examined by some authors earlier in this page, especially in Sections 4d-4e
      Links to pages that focus mainly on methodological naturalism are in Section 3 (in the first page for this topic) which also looks at the wider effects of methodological naturalism, when we ask:  Is MN acceptable, scientifically and theologically, for Christians?  What are the similarities and differences between methodological naturalism and atheistic philosophical NATURALISM?  What are the relationships between them, and is there a tendency for either to cause the other?

a reminder:  This page is the final part (Section 4) of the links-page for INTELLIGENT DESIGN IN SCIENCE.


APPENDIX, with IOUs for Resources

pages by William Dembski (these, and others, will be evaluated in July 2008 and will be used in various sections) — all of the pages below, and more, are available on his website,
Gauging Intelligent Design's Success (2003) by William Dembski  (46 k + refs) - SciDes-res
Science and Design (from First Things, 1998) by William Dembski  (34 k) - SciDes-basics,
Does evolution even have a mechanism? (2002) by William Dembski  (19 k) - in bioE?
ID as a Theory of Technological Evolution (2001) by William Dembski  (26 k) -SciDes-res
Evolutionary Logic (2002) by William Dembski  (8 k) — maybe bioE?
Randomness by Design (1991) by William Dembski  (79 k)
Irreducible Complexity Revisited (2004) by William Dembski  (109 k + 8k) — in bioE-IC,

also [things to check during July 2008],

• John Oakes, The Intelligent Design Debate (2005) — about design of nature (is there evidence for it?) and ID in schools (should we teach it?)
• Richard Aulie, very anti-ID Christian, Intelligent Design Revisited (1998), Intelligent Design, High School Biology, and the Lessons of History (2001)

In this page you'll find links to resource-pages expressing a wide range of views, which don't necessarily represent the views of the American Scientific Affiliation.  Therefore, linking to a page does not imply an endorsement by ASA.  We encourage you to use your own critical thinking to evaluate everything you read. 

This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
 a NON-ITALICIZED LINK opens another page.  Both keep everything inside this window, 
so your browser's BACK-button will always take you back to where you were.

this page, written by Craig Rusbult (editor of ASA Science Ed Website), is
and was revised June 19, 2010


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