Friday, December 3, 2010

Intelligent Design Isn’t Science (7/17/2008)

This was originally posted on a horrible site called Myspace. When Myspace underwent a redesign in Fall 2010, hundreds of insightful reader comments that had been left over the years were lost. I have since deleted my account there.

Sometimes people watch my religion satires and ask why I never get serious and actually state my position in a "mature" manner. Well, for one, because I don't want to be the comedian who started taking himself seriously and therefore stopped being funny. But I do enjoy writing, so this blog is a good place for me to do that without making unfunny videos. The following is adapted from a message to a YouTube viewer who engaged me in a discussion about evolution.


The basic premise of science is rigorous observation and testing. Even if God exists, his presence and influence cannot be objectively observed and tested, and therefore God (or an intelligent designer) cannot factor into any form of scientific inquiry. It has nothing to do with whether or not scientists believe in God; that's not the issue.

You mentioned that oxygen and the wind cannot be seen, so how do we know that they exist? Because oxygen (like another gas, hydrogen) has specific measurable properties that allow it to be identified in the laboratory. If you determined in this way that two gas samples are hydrogen and oxygen, then that determination can be tested: Combine them and add a spark, and they will react and the hydrogen will burn, producing water. The fact that there's a certain amount of water is a prediction, based on what we know about the chemical makeup of water, that came true (and always comes true). The test confirmed the prediction, telling us that the initial determination was correct. The test is also 100% repeatable; anyone in the world can do the experiment and they'll get the same results. All of this works so well because we have a well-supported scientific theory -- yes, it really is a theory -- about the chemical composition of water.

Evolution is harder to observe than burning hydrogen, because it happens over millions of years, but the theory still makes predictions. Before DNA was discovered, biologists knew that related organisms would have to be related genetically somehow, the similarity being in proportion to their relationship on the evolutionary tree of life. This prediction was found indeed to be correct, as confirmed countless times by biologists all over the world from every culture.

Humans have one fewer chromosome than lower apes. This was initially a mystery, but evolutionary theory predicted that two chromosomes must have combined at some point in our distant past. And today any biologist can look at human chromosome 2 and see the structures of two separate chromosomes that somehow combined. This can actually be seen under a microscope, in the tissue of any human (even a creationist), and it's one of many lines of evidence that have supported evolutionary theory for 150 years.

You can't do this kind of thing with an intelligent designer -- not even close. Intelligent design can't make any predictions, and there are no testing schemes that result in objective, repeatable results. I.D. is therefore unable to offer anything useful or practical, the way evolutionary theory helps scientists at the CDC come up with vaccines for rapidly changing pathogens, or the way the chemistry of gases helps engineers design hydrogen fuel cells. I.D. is an attempt to explain something, but without testable or predictive qualities, the plausibility of that explanation cannot be determined. That makes I.D. scientifically useless.

There's a reason why open-minded people like Judge John Jones III,* when presented with arguments by people on both sides who know their fields well, come to the conclusion that I.D. does not qualify as science.

It's fine if you believe that God created the world. It's even okay if you don't believe what evolution says (although I'd argue that's merely because it's complex and difficult). But you can't say that intelligent design is a scientific alternative, because it really isn't.

* The conservative federal judge, appointed by George W. Bush, who heard the 2005 case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board, and wrote unequivocally in his opinion that "I.D. is not science." This case was profiled in the excellent episode of PBS's Nova titled "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial."


  1. I was just looking over an episode of Penn & Teller: BS about this very thing. There was a political debate in Marietta, GA about teaching "Intelligent Design" (I really hate that phrasing because it was fabricated to push philosophy into science) alongside evolution in high school biology classes. They ended up winning in a landslide vote, which was painful to see. It wasn't even the matter of what people believed, it was 1. that Creation isn't science, and 2. Separation of Church and State, both of which these people did not grasp. Now, I was born Catholic--I do accept evolution et al--so I'm all for freedom of religion, and the high school I went to has religious extracurricular groups, one of which I was a part. However, that's okay because it's extracurricular, not a core class, where religion doesn't belong.

  2. There were a couple of commenters arguing in another post that they could disprove evolution hundreds of times over. I wonder where they went? :D

    This is great, loving the posts. Although I admit, I was raging like mad before I realized your videos were satire (these people are so unbelievable, they make parodies look real). Keep it up!