Intelligent Design As A Science Stopper

Biologist frequently make the argument that intelligent design is a science stopper. By resorting to the “God of the Gaps” approach ID renders science futile, biologist argue. ID proponents hate this argument.


Recently, I ordered a copy of Human Evolutionary Genetics: Origins, Peoples and Disease (I’m on chapter 3 and all I can say is buy it!). On page 12 you will find the best statement of the ID as science stopper arguement I have encountered:

The great twentieth century evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote that:

‘Nothin in biology makes sense except in light of evolution’

All of the sizes, shapes, chemistries and genes of organisms alive today derive from ancestors that can be traced back over billions of years. All of these features have been shaped by the environmental challenges faced by these organisms and their ancestors. If it were not the case that humans share a common ancestor with every species on the planet, there would be no value in performing any form of comparitive analysis. There would be nothing that the Escherichia coli bacterium, brewers yeast, fruit fly, nematode worm, zebra fish, mouse or chimpanzee could tell us about ourselves. It is our shared evolutionary heritage that makes them such powerful ‘model organisms’.

The authors of the above quote then go on to make a point about comparing segments of DNA in the mouse genome to segments in the human genome:

…we can identify regions whoseevolution has been constrained by the need to perform a specific function. In otherwords, we can identify a gene not because it looks like a gene, nor because an organism treats it like a gene…, but because it evolves like a gene.

Which really strikes to the heart of the matter. Sans evolution, sequencing all those genomes can tell us absolutely nothing about ourselves. What we would have, without evolution, is a series of species with no relationship to each other. Which creates the methodological issue mentioned in the above quote. If Escherichia coli bacterium, brewers yeast, fruit fly, nematode worm, zebra fish, mouse and chimpanzees are not related how can we compare them (leaving aside the question of the value of the comparison – i.e. whether it would tell us anything meaningful)?

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16 Responses

  1. hey T, how about a track back to buy the book?

  2. The link is above…

  3. Absolutely.
    I like to think of it this way. Suppose we were to conclude that some structure X was intelligently designed. OK…now what? How can we use that conclusion to understand X better? According to ID ‘theory’, we can’t know anything about the designer, the designers methods, motives, or anything about the designer. All we can know is that X was likely designed. Science (at least as far as X is concerned) has thus halted. The only way we can advance our knowledge about X is to forget that we concluded design (the DI rarefied version of design), and continue to look for material explanations.
    Even if we don’t do this, there’s always the possibility that a material explanation for X may come about by accident. For example, we may uncover something about X while studying Y that we never accounted for before. What do we do then? Either we pretend this new information doesn’t exist (since after all we’ve concluded design already) or we set aside that conclusion and use this new information to contine the study of X.
    In every case, the conclusion of design has done nothing but stymie future research. In this manner, it is inferior even to “we don’t know” as a conclusion.

  4. Exactly. If species A was designed we can’t really learn anything about species B. It would be like comparing the color “red” with the taste “sour”. The two are Incommensurable…

  5. To say nothing of how biomedical ethics would change. We’re justified now in our assumption that mouse and human biology are very similar. However, to base treatments for humans on mouse biology if they were both ‘designed’ would be grossly unethical, as there would be absolutely no reason to think that what holds true for the mouse would hold true for the human.

  6. I have recently read that some scientists are beginning to believe that life in all its forms may be explained by both an intelligent designer and evolution–that the truth may lie somewhere in the middle. In other words, that initially life may have created by an intelligent designer (ie big bang), but that it was created w/ evolutionary capabilities…left to its own devices…Interesting thought, no?

  7. Theistic evolutionists migh believe something of the sort – though most of them have problems with ID. Me, I find the idea of an “intelligent designer” scientifically useless…

  8. Scientifically useless? Just out of intellectual curiousity, why would you think this?

  9. Because there is no way of testing it…
    How do you perform an experiment on god? The idea of an “intelligent designer” really doesn’t do much, if anything, for the advancement of scientific knowledge, in the 15 or so years the concept has been around it has produced absolutely nothing in the way of scientific research.

  10. I have recently read that some scientists
    where? there are scientists who believe as you do, but generally not in their capacity as scientists but as believers.

  11. The comment about not being able to test it is a good point…
    I was talking about some scientists who happen to be theists when I mentioned “some scientists…” Also, there have been some bright minds (ie Einstein) that felt that science was not the only explanation for life in all its form. I have also read that as one delves deeper into the mysteries of molecular life, dna replication, big bang, or science in general, its almost inescapable to question whether the existance of an intelligent force was truly behind all that awes us…but testing this is difficult.

  12. What Albert Einstein choose to believe about the universe is irrelevant to the question.

    …as one delves deeper into the mysteries of molecular life, dna replication, big bang, or science in general, its almost inescapable to question whether the existance of an intelligent force was truly behind all that awes us…

    Folks at the Discovery Institute may believe that and have a list of 600 “scientists” who say the same. Yet none of them actually use ID in their day to day research and most working scientists, no matter in what field, don’t see a need to invoke ID to explain the universe.

  13. Wow – the assumptions made on this blog are amazing. Dobzhansky apparently doesn’t understand simple chemistry. The rules for life don’t prove evolution at all. Next – Since when did we supposedly not know anything about the designer in ID theroy. It’s comments like these that just make wonder about some people and how blindly they follow something without every doing any real research. They read some “blog” on a site like this or in a book and buy it as Gospel and blindly follow just like any other cult.
    The more you dig into real science the more you’ll see the continued failures of evolution theroy. Really all we have in evolution theroy after all is statements (like I’ve read here)like “we must have evolved” or “…humans evolved from monkeys…” (one of the most common ones I hear) but never ever see the evidense of that fact. All we see are statements saying it happened. Even according to evolution itself there should be links in the fossile record that proves these facts. Yet still in our “enlightend” state we still have no evidense in the scientific record of evolution. On the other hand if you would open your mind and look at science from the idea of a designer, the science explains itself. It answers all the questions in science. Relativity itself proves ID and nothing else but you have to do the real research yourself. If you believe in evolution, read some of the science against it and visa versa (as I did) and you’ll find the answers. Some of the simple things are by science we know the age of the universe. Scientifically proven! What that in turn does is disprove evolution. What most people have a hard time wiht is that there is a creator out there that (as read on here) is allegedly hidding himself from us. Nothing could be further from the truth, you can see it in the scientific record. However if you don’t want to believe in a “god” then evolution leaves you your only weak escape as of now. Yet instead of having a “faith in a god” many people have “faith in evolution” in spite of the overwhelming evidence of it’s failed theroys.

  14. I know I will regret asking this, but how exactly does the age of the universe refute evolution? I’ll address a few more of your points…

    Since when did we supposedly not know anything about the designer in ID theroy.

    Since Dembski, Behe, and the Discovery Institute (the people that are the main peddlers of ID) say on a regular basis that ID says nothing about the nature of the designer – it’s all about inferring design. Perhaps if you had actually read some of their works you would know that.

    Really all we have in evolution theroy after all is statements (like I’ve read here)like “we must have evolved” or “…humans evolved from monkeys…” (one of the most common ones I hear) but never ever see the evidense of that fact.

    Perhaps, you are reading the wrong books. I would suggest Conroy’s Primate Evolution, Reconstructing Human Origins (also by Conroy) and Wolpoff’s Paleoanthropology or The Human Fossil Record by Schwartz et al. Tons of info on primate and human evolution – but you don’t just get statements you get pictures of all those fossils you say don’t exist…

    Relativity itself proves ID and nothing else…

    Another question I probably will regret asking, but how does relativity prove intelligent design?

  15. A few comments, pro and con….
    Con: I wouldn’t say that ID means that research into other creatures can tell us nothing about ourselves. Many ID theorists (if one can call them that) claim that the observed similiarities in various creatures are what we might think of as “God’s hallmarks.” That is, they denote a consistent “style” in the Designer, like one might see a unity of style in the works of an architect like Frank Lloyd Wright. Reasoning from this premise we might suppose then that if we can understand structures and biology in E. coli better, it might shed light on similar “design elements” in ourselves.
    Pro: ID does stifle science research, however, because it cuts out a core concept of science. We might think of this as “epistemological unity.” Basically, science is bound together as a whole by concepts of predictability and testability. The concept of a Designer is untestable – unfalsifiable – and so it offers no predictions that can be tested by other researchers. Science becomes a “cataloging service” limited to recording observations, but since we can say nothing about how the Designer might have thought or what other design elements it might have introduced, we can make no predictions.
    That’s the thing about natural processes: they’re predictable. We can describe them, and then assume that they will behave consistently with those descriptions and from that make predictions that we can test to see if our descriptions are accurate. This is the unifying epistemological concept of science.
    If, on the other hand, natural processes are the work of a “personality,” then we can predict nothing. Personalities are NOT perfectly consistent. So unless we know the mind behind that personality we can say very little about what it might do, and even if we do have that knowledge we know that minds are not mechanisms. We expect surprises from “people” – that’s one of the ways that we distinguish people from machines.
    Intelligent Design cannot provide information on the Designer scientifically. Christians can point to the Bible. Muslims can point to the Quran. Hindus can point to the Upanishads. But these are religion, not science.
    Steve, this is a fundamental point that I would like to see you address. What, exactly, can Intelligent Design say scientifically about the nature and mind of the Designer? You claim very strongly that it can tell us such things, so it shouldn’t be hard for you to come up with specifics.

  16. razib earlier asked where the scientists I was talking about existed. The Center for Theology and Natural Sciences (out of UC Berkeley) is one such organizaion. I like there website. Check it out:
    http://www.ctns.org

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