Is Intelligent Design Science


The preceding chapters of this book have attacked the scientific basis for intelligent-design creationism. Some readers may therefore infer that our dispute with the advocates of intelligent design is purely scientific; that intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory on a par, say, with evolution; and that it is just an alternate way of attacking the problem of origins. Indeed, we risk legitimizing intelligent design simply by engaging it.

Let us make clear, then, that we do not consider intelligent design to be a legitimate scientific endeavor. Intelligent design is not bad science like cold fusion or wrong science like the Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics, although it probably lies farther along the same continuum. Criticizing it gives it no more scientific legitimacy than criticizing astrology—no more than the magazine Skeptical Inquirer gives to quack medicine when it exposes such practices as phony.

Looking for the footprints of the deity is not necessarily unscientific. What is unscientific is to decide ahead of time on the answer and search for God with the determination to come up with a positive result. That is precisely what William Dembski, Michael Behe, and other ID advocates seem to be attempting. Knowing the answer in advance and being immune to contradictory evidence are typical of pseudoscience.

Perhaps we should be hesitant to use a label such as pseudoscience or crank science; after all, such terms are no longer favored among philosophers of science. It has become increasingly clear (Laudan 1988) that there is no clean way of separating scientific claims from nonscientific just by applying principles like falsifiability or methodological naturalism. Additionally, labeling a rival idea as pseudoscientific may well replace real argument with a political attempt to deny it legitimacy.

Nevertheless, we argue that pseudoscience can be a useful term. If the intelligent-design advocates advertise themselves as doing science, even when their practices are far from the customary intellectual conduct of mainstream science, we can and should suspect that intelligent design is not legitimately science. This suspicion is not a substitute for the detailed scientific critiques offered in the preceding chapters. Nevertheless, exploring whether the label pseudoscience applies may help us better understand what is wrong with intelligent design.

Before rendering judgment on intelligent design, however, let us examine some pseudosciences and see what they have in common and why we call them pseudosciences.

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