Answers to common criticism (wikipedia)

This page gives brief responses to many common misconceptions about ID, especially concentrating on the current (july 2007) wikipedia entry on intelligent design.

Wikipedia is a free content encyclopedia in the web. In principle Wikipedia is a honorable project and is already maybe the most used information source on the www. Yet because Wikipedia entries are open to editing by everyone, controversial minority positions like ID are not represented well. This is because in this case the misbehaving majority just deletes well reasoned corrections/discussion made by the minority. It is the experience of many ID supporters that the well reasoned changes to the many incorrect or bent claims (and overtly criticism for which ID does not get to respond) get deleted in less than fifteen minutes by the darwinists. Of course, by Darwinian morality, the strong can do whatever they want and they have no moral laws to restrain them. This explains much of the behavior of the ID critics.

On criticism in the net
Because ID challenges materialism, it is a threat to the materialistic faith of many ’sceptics’, whose almost sole criteria for scepticism seems to be whether a claim is materialistic/naturalistic. ID, by being not committed to materialistic philosophy, provides much-needed scepticism for materialism and also for evolutionary theory which is basically the only option for explanation of origins for a materialist.
Because of the above, there is overt criticism on ID. However, any developing theory needs time, researchers and resources, and too early overt criticism may be hazardous if science is to be self-correcting. Take the plate tectonic theory for example: It is doubtful if it would have been accepted if at the early stages it would have been subject to the same amount of criticism that ID is facing today. That is if there were a thousand times more critics than researchers and if plate tectonics researchers were not allowed to publish their work and would have been discriminated in getting job positions as ID researchers have been. In physics, string theory was inconsistent for a long time and yet patient researchers who were allowed to continue eventually solved the problem.
Often the criticism about ID is one-sided, used only against ID. For example, the problem of induction, overtly stringent criteria of demarcation (what is science), and criticism on rather common use of probability are used to criticise ID, without any mention that were such criteria used on other scientific theories, they would cease to be scientific also.

On history and politics of Intelligent design
Critics of ID often want to cast ID as religion or politics. The critics forget to mention that any theory about human origins has religious implications and any scientific theory has proponents who have religious (including anti-religious) views. Also any scientific theory has some politics involved, it is always pushed to education by its proponents. Researchers supporting a theory can always be labeled under a ’movement’, a term more suggestive of a political movement. Because the politics against ID is rather harsh, with researcher being denied publication, positions and tenure, of course ID supporters have to develop institutes of their own. (Note that the situation is unfair because only the ID critical side gets government money, eventually coming from taxes paid by the ID-friendly public.) It is curious that critics emphasize the political side of ID and the religious view of ID supporters and completely seem to forget to mention their own political and religious aspirations and the broader honest picture.
Another aspect of criticism of ID is digging dirt about its proponents, emphasizing curious sentences made by ID proponents, guessing at the motives of ID proponents, selectively informing about the history of ID, etc. Using these tactics, one can make any theory look bad.
So, let’s focus on the main question: What if all or parts of nature have been designed by an intelligence? How could we find that out? Because science should be a quest for truth (any other ’game’ should not be funded by public money), we should be able to develop criteria detecting design. This is exactly what the ID research is trying to do, I think very successfully, especially considering the very small amount of funding and researchers (In our mediocre lab we yearly buy equipment, the cost of which would probably cover the salaries of all currently full-time ID researchers).
A good tool for weighing the criticism of ID is using the criticism for an object known to be designed. (Your car, computer etc. )
For example, do you think that is can be scientific to infer that your computer and its operating system are intelligently designed? Is this a religious inference? Are you now doing politics only? Are you now part of the ’there is intelligence in Microsoft’-movement? Is the purported dirt in the movement’s history relevant to your design inference? Should you believe everything a judge in Dover says about your inference being unscientific or unconstitutional? Because you don’t know who it was who designed your computer, are you allowed to leave it open? If you leave the identity of the designer open, does it disprove your design inference that someone can make the claim that is was the flying spaghetti monster who designed your computer?

On creationism and identity of the designer
Is ID creationism? No, both creationists and ID researchers agree that ID is not creationism. The two theories have notable differences. Creationism is committed to the bible on scientific matters in the same way as materialistic science is committed to materialistic causes. One could say that creationism and materialistic science are religiously motivated. ID on the other hand does not commit itself to preconcieved notions and tries to objectively develop criteria to detect design and to use them on thing we find in nature. Design is inferred, when the data so indicate, not assumed. So, claiming that ID is creationism because they have similarities is as intellectually honest as claiming that the democratic party is the same as the communist party because they too have similarities.
Critics of ID want to claim that ID researchers are somehow dishonest in not revealing the identity of the designer. Everyone who has studied the tools of design detection will notice that the inference does not go that far at present, so there is no cover up, just scientific honesty. A scientific theory always opens up new scientific and philosophical questions, as does ID theory. If the critics want to close up research on ID because it leaves some questions open, they will have to end all science. It is also noted concerning the flying spaghetti monster objection, that the further questions opened up by a theory can always be suggested to be filled with stupid answers, but this does nothing to discredit the theory, except for uncritical critics. (Does a flying teapot theory of quark composition disprove the standard model of particle physics?)
It is curious that the current (June 2007) Wikipedia article seems to just list the current criticisms of ID without giving the courtecy of responding to the criticism. That is very biased reporting. And add to that that the choice of words is negative to ID whenever possible, making ID seem bad.

Experimental science
Contrary to common criticism, ID does not assume a designer. However, science based on the materialistic philosophy of science uncritically assumes materialism. ID takes design and materialism as a possibilities and hence is more objective than materialistic science, letting both assumptions (design, materialism) to be critiqued and even tested.
Below are some of the experimental predictions of ID, more exist and more will probably be found if research on ID can continue:

  • Things designed by the same designer will be similar (homology)
  • There will found be useful function for junk DNA.
  • There will be many highly correlated systems in biology, with many parts achieving a common end.
  • By checking the causal history of a specified complex system, it will be found that it was designed. (This can be done positively on cars, computers, books, emails… and negatively on rocks, snow flakes, stripes in sand…)
  • Irreducible complex structures will not be found to have probable developmental pathways. (easily experimentally falsified)

Critics often claim that evolution is somehow more scientific than ID. This is only true if one defines science materialistically as critics often implicitly do. Already the claims of the critics purporting to show that parts of ID have been scientifically falsified show that ID is scientifically testable.

Irreducible Complexity (IC)
Critics often argue that something which is at first merely advantageous can later become necessary as other components change.
This objection overlooks the fact that the system has to give selective advantage right from the start of the hypothetic changes and hence a functioning system similar to the observed will be needed right from the start. This is the case unless the parts would have been serving some other function prior to the hypothetical co-optation. But the co-optation seems highly implausible, why would otherwise independent and originally random systems be able to use each others parts? According to Dembski (No Free Lunch, The Design Revolution) that would be like thinking that parts from a cars transmission can be used in the engine.
Some critics claim that IC has been refuted in the scientific literature (the possibility of which makes the concept eminently scientifically testable) but on overlook the fact that ID researchers have largely shown the claims as exaggerations. It is suggested that the reader interested in further information on irreducible complexity read M. Behe’s new book titled The Edge Of Evolution.

Specified complexity or Complex Specified Information (CSI)
For a good intro on specified complexity, see W. Dembski’s article.
Critics often just posit without proof that ”that allowing for an intelligent designer to account for unlikely complexity only postpones the problem, as such a designer would need to be at least as complex” even though many authors (e.g. Richard Swinburne in The existence of God and W. Lane-Craig in this article.
have argued convincingly that this seems not to be the case. And even if a designer were a more complex entity than the one we are trying to explain, it can still be true that the thing is designed. This is trivially true for cars and computers and no critics uses the above argument in these cases. So, sometimes the real cause is complex.
Some critics claim that Demski’s CSI is a tautology because part of the definition requires a low (materialistic) probability for the event. Of course this does not make CSI a tautology because low probability events happen all the time, which is why Dembski’s definition includes specification as one of its main components. This is sufficient to show why the definition is not a tautology. And even if the above did not hold, CSI would of course not be a tautology but a simple legitimate syllogism in the form 1. A or B 2. not A 3. therefore B.
Some critics claim that the asymmetric way Demski’s CSI handles hypothesis renders it prone to problems. Of course such asymmetry is a byproduct of the Fisherian hypothesis testing approach adopted by Dembski and hence to be honest the critic would also need to hold as erraneous roughly half of the current statistical methods. It also seems to be the case that Dembski’s CSI can be given a Bayesian interpretation doing away with the asymmetry.
In reality we know that Demski’s CSI does work in known cases (everyone can test it for a book, a car, a rock, etc.), the critics have yet to show a case where it does not work when properly used.

Fine-tuning (FT)
The rabid atheist V. Stenger has claimed that fine-tuning is essentially a tautology because in his view, these arguments amount to the claim that life is able to exist because the universe is able to support life. But this criticism misses the point because both the environment and life that need to be explained.
Critics seem to think the fine-tuning argument dissolves by merely pointing that some constraints involve several variables. But of course the interdependencies have mostly been taken into account. And of course dependencies of the variables in the constraints clearly does not make all of the parameter space conducive to life, so the dependency-critique seems to be rather moot. It also seems clear that the amount of constraints is bigger than the amount of variables.
Some critics fault the fine-tuning argument for a lack of imagination concerning other possible life forms. It seems that the critic is here committing an ALF (alternate life-form) of the gaps fallacy because the critics argument is based on ignorance. As already explained by Leslie (universes) many of the constraints deal with common things to any lifeforms like existence of any sufficient galactic, or stellar structures, available reactions in the universe, the existence of stable atoms, etc. Leslie also points out that for the FT argument it is enough that the FT is locally improbable (just as hitting a bullseye is significant in darts irrespective of the amount of boards in the room.) Although the case against alternate lifeforms has not been researched much, Denton (Life’s destiny) has been able to show that most suggestions so far are not nearly as viable as the life observed. See also this article and the book by G. Gonzales and J. Richards.
Based on M. Denton’s analysis of the fitness of current biochemistry, it seems that the current building blocks of life (water, carbon, …) each fulfill multiple constraits required by life. Because there seems to be more constraints than variables to change it seems that compensatory changes to other variables cannot be done in general. And because present lifeforms pose more constraints than variables, it seems likely that another type of life-form either also pose more constraints than variables, in which case the set of equations will probably not have a solution or the life-form will be much less viable and hence improbable. While there is need for further research (e.g. on finding further constraints and considering hypothetical alternate lifeforms in detail, which so far has been discouraging for ALFs) the above argument does seem to shift the burden of proof to ALF supporters to show viable ALFs, otherwise the presumption should be a disbelief toward ALFs.
It should also be remembered that because the probabilities concerning fine-tuning are astronomically small, even if some viable alternate life forms were granted, this would effectively leave the probabilities unchanged. Because we are carbon based, it is rational to suppose that other life-form are not much more probable than carbon based are.