Opponents of intelligent design (ID) usually dismiss the theory as unscientific, an attempt at smuggling religion into science through a back door. They slam it as a “god of the gaps” argument — inserting God into questions where science has not yet found a persuasive answer.
In a new book, former geophysicist and author Stephen C. Meyer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, explains why intelligent design is not a “god of the gaps” argument, but a viable scientific theory.
“The theory of intelligent design, unlike creationism, is not based upon the Bible,” Meyer wrote in Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design. Rather than a Bible-based theory, ID “is based on recent scientific discoveries and what we know about the cause-and-effect structure of the world — specifically, what we know about patterns of evidence that indicate intelligent causes.”
Intelligent design focuses less on Genesis and more on the complexity of DNA and genetic codes. It merely posits that the world — and especially life — has the kind of complexity that can only be explained by intelligence. It does not attempt to prove the existence of a God, or to identify a God, but to present the case for an intelligence behind natural phenomena.
Meyer explained that “god of the gaps” arguments fail to convince because they are arguments from ignorance. Such arguments “occur when evidence against a proposition is offered as the sole grounds for accepting an alternative position.” For instance: Evolution cannot explain this part of life, ergo there must be a designer.
Intelligent design does not work like this, the author argues. “Proponents of intelligent design infer design because we know that intelligent agents can and do produce specified information-rich systems,” Meyer writes. “Indeed, we have positive, experience-based knowledge of an alternative cause sufficient to have produced the effect in question — and that cause is intelligence or mind.”
ID proponents like Meyer point out that even the most basic forms of life are remarkably complex. Each organism’s genetic code carries digital information remarkably similar to the kind of computer code humans invented using their minds.
Furthermore, Meyer points to the work of Douglas Axe, a biologist whose experiments revealed “that for every one DNA sequence that generates a short functional protein of just 150 amino acids in length, there are 1077 non-functional combinations — that is, 1077 amino acid arrangements that will not fold into a stable three-dimensional protein structure capable of performing a biological function.”
Random chance acting through the laws of nature has not been demonstrated to create this kind of complexity.
In her response to Meyer, co-author Deborah Haarsma (president of the evolution-friendly Christian organization BioLogos) admitted that intelligent design is not a “god of the gaps” argument per se, but it shares the risks of such arguments.
“If scientists discover a natural explanation for the phenomenon attributed to design, then the ID argument fails,” Haarsma writes.
That, however, is specifically the point of scientific theories. Meyer argues that intelligent design is a better theory than naturalistic evolution because it explains the complexity of life much better. If naturalistic evolution found a better explanation for the creation of genetic information, then ID would lose ground, and might eventually be proven wrong.
All scientific theories must explain the natural world, and when they fail to do so, they are jettisoned. Because ID is based on evidence rather than scripture, it can be disproven just like the geocentric theory of the solar system. If it has not been disproven, however, it should be taken seriously as science, rather than religion.
The intelligent design position is scientific, and whether it is true or false, Americans need to understand it isn’t “fake science.” As Meyer wrote, “scientific theory-evaluation is an inherently comparative enterprise. Theories that gain acceptance in artificially constrained competitions can claim to be neither most probably true nor most empirically adequate.”
If intelligent design is artificially excluded, that damages science in general, and even the competing theory of evolution in particular.