Empirical adequacy

Empirical adequacy is determined by the results of testing, and in the historical sciences, by the acceptance of a hypothesis over its competitors because of its superior causal explanation of empirical observations. Given that ID has been assessed as untestable, it cannot even be properly evaluated for empirical adequacy.

It is worth noting here that ID’s paragon example of IC (and CSI), the bacterial flagellum, is strongly disputed to be IC by evolutionary biologists, again suggesting empirical inadequacy.


PMN requires that an assumption of methodological naturalism be adopted unless there is ‘extraordinary empirical evidence’ that indicates otherwise. This includes hypotheses advanced in the historical sciences.

As discussed earlier, ID is not inherently supernatural, and so satisfies the PMN requirement. However the now familiar lack of detail about the designer’s capabilities, motives and mechanism certainly casts a pall of suspicion on ID, and seems to be a strategy to avoid violating PMN.


Does ID demonstrate the progressiveness expected of scientific endeavours? Does it develop theories, solve problems, and discard or modify them as require?

During the almost thirty years since its inception, ID has produced ideas such as Behe’s IC and Dembski’s specified complexity – flawed concepts as discussed above, but which have generated considerable debate. ID has also produced more sophisticated criticisms of evolutionary theory than its creation science predecessor, such as those by Stephen Meyer.

The primary issue, however, is the failure to develop a comprehensive theory, a situation already highlighted, and also acknowledged by Paul Nelson, a current Fellow of the Discovery Institute, at a meeting at Biola College in 2004: ‘Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus’ (Nelson, 2004).

Donald Prothero agreed, stating that ‘they don’t offer any new scientific ideas or a true alternative theory competing with evolution. All they argue is that some parts of nature seem too complex for them to imagine an evolutionary explanation’ (Prothero, 2010, 418).

In the decade or more since Paul Nelson made the statement above, little seems to have changed. Dembski’s ideas have not been further developed, and he has recently announced that he is abandoning further research in ID. There is no evidence that a detailed theory of design has

been developed (Luskin, 2013), and so there seems little empirical content to progress with. As a result, the conclusion is that ID does not satisfy the progressiveness indicator.

Explanatory power

Meyer claims that ‘[ID] provides a better explanation than any competing chemical evolutionary model for the origin of biological information’ (Meyer, 2009, 347). Similarly, Luskin states that ‘[ID] is an explanation of many aspects of the natural world, especially many aspects of biological complexity’ (Luskin, 2011).

However we have already noted the lack of any detail regarding the designer’s capabilities, motives and mechanisms. Essentially, the designer is undefined, and provides no more explanation than positing a deity does. This indicator is also not satisfied.

Peer review

The Discovery Institute maintains a list of ID-related peer-reviewed articles (Discovery Institute, 2016b). Many are not genuine peer-reviewed journal articles, but are book chapters, conference papers, and peer-edited and editor-reviewed articles. Most peer-reviewed articles deal with evolutionary science, highlighting particular issues, but do not mention ID. Articles directly supportive of ID are published in the Discovery Institute-funded open access journal BIO-Complexity.

It seems clear that ID practitioners are engaging in the peer-review process, and are contributing to evolutionary science, even if in a critical way. ID has also succeeded in provoking widespread discussion amongst evolutionary scientists, and although most of this is negative, it is also a form of peer-review.

It is concluded that ID satisfies the peer-review indicator.

Borrows knowledge

Unlike the creation science movement, which borrows knowledge from science only when supportive of its views (e.g. ‘young earth’ creationism’s rejection of radiometric dating), the ID community demonstrates willingness to draw on research from a broad range of scientific fields, including areas within biology, physics and chemistry.

Of course, ID does dispute many of the contentions of evolutionary theory, but this is expected as ID represents an alternative hypothesis. Certainly no basic science is disputed.

Claims to be science

The practitioners of a pseudoscience ‘deliberately attempt to create the impression that it is scientific’ (Hansson, 1996), and this is certainly the case for ID. The Discovery Institute has published numerous articles defending this position, and Stephen Meyer advances a detailed case (Meyer, 2009).

 Part 6: Is Intelligent Design science?


One thought on “Evaluating Intelligent Design 2

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