Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Is Intelligent Design Science?

Last time we described intelligent design (ID) as the view that what we see in the universe, on our planet, and in biological life is too complicated to have been created by undirected natural processes, therefore a supernatural intelligence must be responsible for it all.

This time we’re asking whether ID is science.

To answer that question, first we must ask, what is science? When naturalists say that ID isn’t science, what they typically mean is it isn’t naturalism. Today there is a common notion that science and naturalism are inseparable. This wasn’t always true, but that is the assumption today. Examining naturalism will help us understand ID.

Naturalism in science is the notion that anything you can detect or measure has a physical cause. Naturalism has no place for the mind much less the spirit because neither have attributes that are directly measurable. So why would this idea, which clearly has its limits, be so pervasive in science? It reigns supreme because people been taught to think in that way.

Now we can see naturalism isn’t “science.” It’s how people think about science. In other words it is a philosophy of science.

Intelligent design is the notion that things you can detect or measure do not necessarily have a physical cause. It assumes mind and spirit may be able to affect the physical world. Clearly, intelligent design is a different way to think about science.

So is ID science? No. It is a philosophy of science. It is a metatheory – that is, a theory about theories.

If ID isn’t “science,” how will we know if it’s true? Metatheories cannot be directly tested. Theories based on metatheories can. If theories based on ID assumptions, theories that cannot be based on naturalistic assumptions, are confirmed, then ID gains credibility. Until then, it is just a philosophical argument.

There are people at work trying to do what I described. The folks at Reasons to Believe are working on a testable creation model. There are others who are trying to do research based on design assumptions. This will take time. Science is slow. Overcoming two hundred years of prejudice is slow too. So let’s be patient, pray, and marvel at the handiwork of our Creator.

Next Sunday we'll look at why this argument is so important or "What's wrong with naturalism?"


Jon said...

Nice comments. I look forward to your next post.

I really like Francis Schaeffer's ideas on how we got to the point of naturalism reigning supreme. Have you read any of his works? They are quite helpful in this regard, I believe. Also, one of his disciples, Nancy Pearcey, wrote a book called Total Truth, which deals with some of these same issues. I have a feeling you would enjoy reading it.

ChrisB said...


Everyone and his brother recommends Total Truth so I'm definitely going to have to read it. I've got Schaeffer's works, but I haven't had a chance to go through it yet. Thanks for the recommendations.

Anonymous said...

I think you're right, but my problem with leaving it at that is that lots of things that are strictly speaking philosophy get treated as science by the mainstream scientific profession. Look at the philosophy of biology published by Richard Dawkins, which includes some summaries of empirical research but is often a philosophical conclusion drawn from inferences to the best explanation. Look at the discussions of cosmology that you find in many books about physics. Much in those discussions is just a rehash issues raised in the classic arguments for the existence of God. Then compare what intelligent design is. The fine-tuning argument isn't any different from that, and that gets treated as physics.

ChrisB said...

Hi, Jeremy,

Thanks for stopping by.

Are you referring to Dawkins' God Delusion? If so, you're far too charitable.

Anyway, you make some good points, some of which I plan to address in my next post on the topic.