Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Intelligent Design and Falsification

Some critics of Intelligent Design theories say that they are not falsifiable. However, ID says, "Mechanism (organ, etc.) X is too complex to have evolved by random mutation and natural selection." Therefore, it can be falsified by showing that X could have evolved that way.


  1. You are too kind to ID.

    You are right that the proposition "X could not have evolved" is falsifiable. But the refutation of that proposition would not falsify ID, since the falsity of the proposition "X could not have evolved" does not mean ID is false.

    To put it another way, it is not a necessary part of ID, that evolution is incapable of producing what we see. Rather, the proposition is that it did not in fact do so.

  2. That's not how I understand, for instance, Behe. As I read him, he's saying that the evidence for ID is that the eye, for example, could not have evolved because a non-functional proto-eye would be useless. (I think he actually focuses more on cases in molecular biology, his own field.)

    Behe does not deny evolution occurs and explains some features of organisms well. Therefore, if you showed that every instance he proposes of something too complex to have evolved really could have done so, if honest, he'd have to admit defeat.

  3. Surely all that Behe is seeking to do - like a good critical rationalist (!!) - is to falsify evolution by showing a case in which it could not work.

    But the failure of a particular attempt to falsify conjecture A (evolution), does not of course entail that competing conjecture B (ID) is false. Hence the fact that it is possible in principle to test the conjecture that eyes could not have evolved, does not render ID falsifiable in principle.

  4. No, I don't think this analysis is right. Behe is saying features x, y, and z are not susceptible to Darwinian explanations, so there must be ID. If it turns out x, y, and z are susceptible to such explanations, his theory is falsified.

  5. I side with Gene on this one. Behe (in a published interview--See The Case for a Creator) says that his claims are falsifiable. In particular, if a biologist could show that a cell could have plausibly arisen step-by-step from inorganic compounds, then Behe would concede defeat. (Of course, you can say that Behe would never admit the explanation was a good one.)


Current review queue

Pearce: British Journal for the History of Philosophy Deneen: The American Conservative Chao-Reiss: Computing Reviews