Reasons to Believe

Turning the Microscope on Intelligent Design, Part 1 of 2

Invention of a New Type of Microscope Delineates the Difference between ID and Science

Is it science or isn’t it? This question lies at the heart of the controversy about intelligent design (ID) and whether it should be included in high school science curricula.

Many in the scientific community reject ID because they claim it isn’t science. There are two primary reasons for their rejection: the appeal to a supernatural agent to explain the universe and life; and the absence of a scientific theory of intelligent design.

RTB’s position on intelligent design has surprised some and has raised the ire of others. We agree with some of the scientific community’s criticisms of ID, namely that ID isn’t science. (For a good discussion about ID and science, see RTB apologist Richard Deem’s article

Interestingly, the invention of a new type of miniaturized microscope helps clarify RTB’s position on ID and illustrates why we don’t think it qualifies as science, at least as currently conceived by the ID movement.

Our complaints about ID don’t mean that we think the work done by the ID community lacks value. We largely agree with their criticisms of methodological naturalism as the sole philosophy guiding science. We are on board with many of the scientific challenges they have raised against biological evolution. (For example, see my books Origins of Life and Who Was Adam?.)We also concur with much of the arguments and evidence ID scholars cite in favor of intelligent design. (As a case in point, see my book The Cell’s Design.)

Can Science Detect the Work of an Intelligent Agent?

Additionally, we agree with ID proponents that ID shouldn’t be excluded from the scientific enterprise simply because it appeals to the work of an intelligent agent. Even though many scientists would claim otherwise, science has the capacity to adopt explanations for the universe and life that rely on the work of a Creator.

Science routinely deals with directly unobservable phenomena, such as forces, fields, and subatomic particles. Scientists infer the properties and monitor the effects of unobservables indirectly by examining observable macroscopic phenomena that directly affect our senses. It should be possible to do the same for a Creator’s activity.

Within a Christian framework, ID naturally integrates with science. Christians believe that God reveals himself through nature. If this is true, then scientists should be able to ascertain God’s fingerprints in nature if he has intervened to bring about life’s origin, for example. Though scientists may not be able to directly detect the Supernatural Being, they can examine the material realm looking for telltale signs of God’s work.

Science also possesses the capacity to investigate intelligent causation. Criminal investigators who utilize the principles of forensic science routinely detect and characterize intelligent activity at crime scenes. Archeologists study artifacts produced by humans, and anthropologists, who study the hominid fossil record, discriminate between stones intelligently shaped into tools and those artificially resembling tools but formed by the forces of nature. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is a search for signatures in the cosmos that reflect the existence of aliens living in another star system. Finally, Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel’s model of directed panspermia appeals to intelligent activity to explain life’s first appearance on Earth?an idea they demonstrate to be testable. By extension, life’s appearance on Earth by a supernatural, extra-universal Intelligence should, too, be detectable and testable.

Is Intelligent Design Science?

It’s true that the case for ID rests in large measure on the scientific evidence for design and the scientific challenges to biological evolution. Still, this doesn’t make ID a scientific enterprise. Rather, it is a program that draws philosophical and theological implications from the scientific data—at least as it currently operates.

ID proponents point out that their scholars have developed techniques and methods to detect the work of an intelligent designer, and that this design detection represents a scientific endeavor. This would include Michael Behe’s use of irreducible complexity to detect design and William Dembski’s explanatory filter and concept of specified complexity.

Unfortunately, most in the scientific community would disagree with this point. In fact, we at RTB would also disagree with it. Next week I describe how the invention of a new type of microscope helps illustrate why.


Part 1 | Part 2

Subjects: Educators/Homeschoolers, Intelligent Design Movement

Dr. Fazale Rana

In 1999, I left my position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because I felt the most important thing I could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence—evidence that is being uncovered day after day—for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture. Read more about Dr. Fazale Rana