“The Predictive Power[lessness] of Intelligent Design”

Via afarensis, Bill Dembski’s list of ID “predictions,” intended to demonstrate that ID is too a scientific theory, so there.

(1) ID predicts that although there will be occasional degeneration of biological structures (both macroscopic and microscopic), most structures will exhibit function and thus serve a purpose…

(2) ID predicts that the cell would have such engineering features [as nanotechnology, machines, etc]

(3) ID has always predicted that there will be classes of biological systems for which Darwinian processes fail irremediably, and conservation of information is putting paid to this prediction.

Let’s look at these more closely and see how they differ from actual scientific predictions.

The first point I notice is that these aren’t so much predictions as they are a re-hash of the stock ID talking points. “Prediction” number 1 rehashes the creationist argument that vestigial organs and junk DNA have functions, and therefore evolution is wrong. It’s nicely hedged: only “most” structures need to have a function, so even if it turns out that junk DNA really is junk and vestigial organs really are vestigial, Dembski can still claim the win as long as there are a lot of biological structures that do have functions. “Prediction” 2 rehashes Behe’s argument that if parts of a cell function like “machines,” they are nanotech, and therefore need a designer. And “prediction” 3 repeats Dembski’s own No Free Lunch argument.

What Dembski is saying, more or less, is simply that he predicts ID will win in the end, or in other words, that evolution will be proven wrong, somehow, to at least some extent. What he’s not saying, and cannot say, is that there exists any actual ID theory that could be cited as providing objective support for these predictions.

In a scientific explanation, the theorist proposes a mechanism with sufficient specific detail that anyone can work out what consequences would result from that mechanism operating in real life. Dembski does not do this. There is no specified mechanism for Intelligent Design that allows us to objectively determine that, for example, an intelligent designer would have no wasted parts or obsolete mechanisms in any biological structures. Creationists have taken the notion that the discovery of new things can be used as an argument claiming that evolution is wrong, and Dembski is simply hopping on the bandwagon.

Likewise, intelligent design gives us no reason to believe that the designer of Nature would not use natural mechanisms in his design. There’s no objective reason to predict that machines ought to be present inside cells. The ID “prediction” here is simply a post hoc observation (wow, cells are complicated) being given a superstitious interpretation (gosh, if we can’t intuitively grasp how natural mechanisms could produce such results, some intelligent agent must have done it).

The “No Free Lunch” argument comes the closest to being a genuine scientific prediction, but unfortunately it’s a debunked prediction. Dembski is building his argument on the idea that there is one way that won’t work, but that’s not the same as proving that no way will work. It’s like finding a highway that doesn’t go to Sacramento. That road may not go there, but that’s hardly a proof that no roads lead to Sacramento.

If ID were a valid scientific theory, Dembski would be able to show us the proposed mechanisms of ID so that other people could work out whether or not he has correctly derived the predictions (consequences) that ought to result from those mechanisms in operation. He can’t do that, because ID is a post hoc, superstitious attribution based on the argument from ignorance. So instead, he offers us his best guesses/hopes regarding what he expects to be able to do someday, and calls those “predictions.” And they are; they’re just not scientific predictions.

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