Grow Some Testables
Intelligent design ducks the rigors of science.
The claim of intelligent design is that "No unintelligent process could produce this system." The claim of Darwinism is that "Some unintelligent process could produce this system." To falsify the first claim, one need only show that at least one unintelligent process could produce the system. To falsify the second claim, one would have to show the system could not have been formed by any of a potentially infinite number of possible unintelligent processes, which is effectively impossible to do.
The complaint that Darwinism can resort to an "infinite number" of processes misses the key word: processes. What makes Darwinism finite and falsifiable is its commitment to explain processes of evolution. Debunk one process, and Darwinists are forced to propose and test another. (For an excellent review of Darwinism's performance under empirical challenge, see Rick Weiss and David Brown's article in Monday's Washington Post.) What makes ID infinite and unfalsifiable is its refusal to explain intelligent design. You send your kids to biology class to learn by what processes living things evolve. ID doesn't even try to answer that question.
Don't take it from me. Take it from Behe. "By 'intelligent design' I mean to imply design beyond the laws of nature," he writes. Or take it from the Dover School Board, whose brief flatly denies "that Intelligent Design Theory sets forth a thesis concerning the nature of the intelligence responsible for the apparent design in nature." In his testimony, Behe even asserts that "the necessity for a 'scientific' theory to be falsifiable is disputed."
So here's what ID proponents are offering to teach your kids: They won't say how ID works. They won't say how it can be tested, apart from testing Darwinism and inferring that the alternative is ID. They won't concede it has to be falsifiable. All they'll say is that Darwinism hasn't explained some things. But that's what the first half of the Dover policy says already. So there's no need for the second half—the part that mentions ID.
The Dover School Board thinks it's getting a bum rap. All it asked its teachers to do was to mention ID. It never ordered them to teach it. "The theory of Intelligent Design shall not be taught to the students," says the board. Of course not. There's nothing to teach.
Correction, Sept. 30, 2005: The Dover school board submitted two briefs on July 13, 2005. One said Minnich was a professor at Iowa State. The other said he was a professor at the University of Idaho. Based on the first brief, I said he was at Iowa State. The second brief turns out to be the correct one. (Return to corrected sentence.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Earth on the Slate home page © Denis Scott/Corbis.