Intelligent design fails to meet the criteria of a scientific theory for a variety of reasons. Judge Jones’s opinion in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover School District set forth three reasons in support of his 2005 decision that found that intelligent design failed to meet the criteria of a legitimate science. First, intelligent design invokes supernatural causation to explain natural phenomena. Legitimate science simply does not invoke the supernatural to explain the natural world. For one thing, it would be impossible to test the propositions set forth in any such supernatural explanation. Since supernatural explanations (and thus intelligent design as a whole) are untestable, it is also impossible disprove such explanations. Second, intelligent design’s argument of “irreducible complexity” does not hold up under scrutiny. This argument, put forth by intelligent design proponents, suggests that many adaptations of species are “irreducibly complex” and thus could not possibly be the result of anything but design. This is conclusory logic, and sounds to me very much like a re-shuffling of the very earliest design arguments as set forth by John Ray and William Paley. All they have to do is throw in the watch analogy and it’s all there, re-asserted as if Darwin never came along and introduced his theory of evolution by natural selection. Third, the scientific community had overwhelmingly refused intelligent design’s negative, agenda-laden attacks on the concept of evolution.
Intelligent design is not scientific- it is not based on the practice of science and the application of the scientific method. Instead, the intelligent design movement is a coordinated attack, with the goal of getting its particular view of religion taught in schools. Its purveyors also exploit the fear of some that to believe in evolution precludes them from believing in God. This isn’t true, as the theory of evolution does not take a position on the existence or role of God one way or the other. It simply does not invoke God, or any other supernatural or divine influence, in seeking answers, explaining causation, and in seeking any explanations for things observed in the natural world.
In his essay that appears in Intelligent Thought: Science vs. The Intelligent Design Movement, edited by John Brockman, Jeffrey A. Coyne explains how there are actually two versions of the intelligent design argument disseminated by its proponents: a “weak form” and a “strong form.” Intelligent design proponents argue the weak form when arguing the position in court, and the strong form to their religious followers -the version they actually believe. Coyne explains how neither the weak form nor the strong form meet the criteria of a scientific theory. In fact, the weak form does not make any scientific claims that can tested or falsified. The strong form adds some elements to the weak form of the argument, and these added claims are either untestable, or make spurious quasi-scientific claims, such as the abrupt appearance theory. However, there is no evidence that all of the major categories of life originated in one instant, only evidence to the contrary. Similarly, the strong form of intelligent design offers as “evidence” the appearance in the fossil record of certain new types of groups that did not have clear fossil ancestors, and the lack of fossil evidence of the relatedness between major groups of life. However, transitional fossils have long been documented that convincingly falsify this assertion in the strong intelligent design argument.
It is evident that both intelligent design and the more traditional design argument share similarities. First, they both invoke the idea that certain adaptations compel the conclusion that they could only be the result of design, that they can’t occur naturally. Design argument explained the marvelous adaptations of various life forms to their environments as evidence of a divine designer akin to, as Paley put it, a watchmaker. Intelligent design proponents phrase the concept differently, and appear to narrow the focus a little to the many adaptations that they deem to be “irreducibly complex,” but the fundamental concept is the same- the “irreducible complexity” of many adaptations seen in nature “prove” that there has to be a designer, just as the watch compels the conclusion, according to this logic, that there is a watchmaker.
Intelligent design also differs from the design argument in various respects. For example, the underlying motivations behind the proponents of each argument are different. Proponents of the design argument sought to learn more about the natural world, and then sought to reconcile these findings with their religious beliefs. They were looking for evidence of God in the natural world. And yes, as more and more evidence mounted that contradicted Scripture, they were forced to bend their viewpoints and theories in their attempts to align the natural findings with the Bible. Proponents of the intelligent design argument, on the other hand, purposefully manipulate the discourse in order to further their ideological and political agenda- i.e., to force their particular beliefs into the public school system, thereby indoctrinating future generations, and to diminish the role of science in our schools and culture. Intelligent design proponents see legitimate science and scientific inquiry as the enemy.
The design argument proposed that there was proof in a divine “designer” in the very complexity and purportedly perfect adaptation of life to its environment. The structures of species seemed to be perfectly designed for its environment, as evidenced by its adaptations to such environment. The adherents to intelligent design have had to deal with the reality that many adaptations have proven to actually be far from perfect, and in fact, there is direct evidence of vestigial organs (i.e., the appendix), less-than-optimal design (i.e., the bad design of the recurrent laryngeal nerve), and non-functional DNA in our genome (i.e., pseudogenes) that appear to serve no current useful function at all. The intelligent design followers explain this by arguing that nothing is known or can be known about the nature of the designer or it’s goals and methods. In other words- we can’t know the designer’s reasons for giving us non-functional structures- we’ll just have to trust that God had his reasons. I’m not sure if this qualifies as a facet of intelligent design that is different from the design argument, but I’m confident that it is one of many examples of how intelligent design veered off the the original design argument’s script to suit its purposes and agenda.