Intelligent Design is the latest in a string of anti-evolution movements. Originally things were kept nice and clear, anti-evolutionists were creationists favouring religious accounts of the history of life over scientific ones. Creationism was rejected as a scientific idea within Darwin’s own lifetime. In America, creationists tried to prevent the teaching of evolution in schools. When they failed they repackaged their ideas as “Scientific Creationism” a series of public trials however led to the failure of that movement too. Scientific Creationism was rejected as science because it failed to stand up to the scientific method: evidence such as the fossil record proved the antiquity of life and therefore disproved Scientific Creationism as a scientific theory. In addition, American courts also rejected Scientific Creationism from being included in science teaching because its primary effect was to advance Christian religion and had no secular purpose, as such it is unconstitutional.
To their credit, anti-evolutionists are, if nothing else, persistent. Out of the ashes of Scientific Creationism rose Intelligent Design. ID proposes that the idea of evolution is flawed and that the design and creation of life by an intelligent being (but not necessarily ‘God’ – they’re careful not to make that mistake twice) is a better way to understand the natural world.
With so much evidence supporting evolution, can ID hold up as an alternative? In science new theories arise all the time, often because new evidence has come to light. Has some new piece of the puzzle been found that means evolution doesn’t fit the evidence as well as it used to? No, the accumulation of evidence supporting evolution continues unabated.
Another scenario for the promotion of a new theory is when a rival theory can explain existing data just as well. Does ID do this? In the leading ID text book Of Pandas and People, the authors claim that things like the sudden appearance of animals during the Cambrian explosion, and the lack of transitional fossils, suggest evolution is not supported by the fossil record. Yet in all cases the authors do not present the full amount of data, they distort the evidence to fit their “theory”.
ID also claims some properties of living things are “irreducibly complex”, they could not have evolved, so must have been designed. Yet we know of many instances where evolution has produced systems or traits that are incredibly complex. When ID claims a particular trait is irreducibly complex, science can test this claim. We discuss two examples in a case study. In both cases the ID claims are falsified. The claim that these systems are too complex to evolve is shown to be untrue. In general however the claim that any system could be too complex to understand is not testable. To test this claim we would have to understand everything perfectly, we would in effect, half to travel back in time a watch the history of life unfurl!
This misrepresentation and cherry-picking of data is unscientific. The falsifiable claims of irreducible complexity of particular systems show that it is not a successful explanation. In addition ID fails to provide a testable method by which the ‘designer’ carries out its work. Evolution has natural selection, ID has… well, nothing. Without a proposed theory based on natural laws, which scientists could test against evidence, ID cannot be a science.