the "Intelligent Designer" argument a Scientific One?
by Lenny Flank
Recently, creationists have taken up a new tactic, referred to as the "Intelligent Designer" or "Sudden Appearence" argument. The complex molecules of life, including DNA, are, they say, "too complicated" and "too improbable" to have arisen on their own through random chance, and therefore they must have been deliberately strung together by an "intelligent designer" with supernatural powers. Some creationists illustrate their claim by pointing out that the odds of an intact strand of DNA forming all at once from chance are the same as the odds of a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a functional Boeing 747.
There are a number of things wrong with the creationist "probability" argument, however. The first and most obvious is that wildly improbable things happen all the time. How improbable must a thing be before it is "too improbable" to have happened without Divine Influence? The odds of any human being being struck by lightning are enormously improbable, yet every year at least a dozen people are killed in the United States by lightning bolts. Have they all been struck down by God? Is the chance of any particular person being struck by lightning "too improbable" to have happened by chance?
Another example: in an ordinary deck of playing cards there are 52 cards. If I deal these out face up, the odds of that particular combination arising in order, by chance, are 52-factorial; that is, 52 x 51 x 50 . . . x 3 x 2. That is one heck of a big number, and the odds are astronomically against dealing that particular hand at that particular time. Yet there it will be, staring us right in the face. If I were to take ten decks of cards and deal them all out, face up, the odds against that particular combination arising by chance are higher than the number of electrons in the universe. Yet again, there it will be. Is it therefore impossible for that particular combination to have arisen by chance? Is the appearence of this particular combination "too improbable" to have happened by chance? Do I witness a Divine Miracle every time I deal out ten decks of playing cards? I very much doubt it.
Even more fatal to the creationist "probability" argument, however, is the simple fact that the odds they are talking about are irrelevant, since neither biomolecules nor living cells are formed "randomly" or "by chance". Life is a chemical process, and like all chemical processes it is governed by the deterministic laws of chemistry and physics. These laws are not "random".
If we have a number of amino acids in solution, for instance, they do not combine "randomly"---they combine according to their chemical properties. Thus, any given mixture of amino acids will always combine in the same ways, in accordance with the laws of chemistry. The idea that there are an astronomical number of possible combinations is simply wrong. The laws of physics narrow the possible chemical combinations to a very much smaller number --the possible number of electron configurations in the outer shell of those atoms. All of the other "possible" combinations are forbidden by the laws of chemistry and physics.
Thus, in their "probability" argument, the creationists conveniently neglect to mention that the combination of the components of those biomolecules is not "random"--they are precisely determined by the iron laws of chemistry and nuclear physics. Put a group of amino acids in proximity and they will combine in the same basic ways every single time, due to the chemistry of carbon atoms. This makes the "probability" that a collection of amino acids will combine to form a particular protein very near 100%. The laws of chemistry and physics drastically reduce the number of "possible" chemical combinations--and in many cases leave only one possible chemically stable configuration.
The creationist contention that a cell or a strand of DNA arose "all at once" is a straw man. No one has ever suggested that an entire living cell or biomolecule "poofed" into being all at once, intact. Instead, the appearence of the first replicating molecule (as well as the first living cell) was a steady process of step-by-step building, beginning with a proteinoid and adding bits and pieces from there. No evolutionary biologist has ever asserted that biomolecules or living cells must have arisen all at once, in complete and final form. Since a whole series of intermediate chemical steps preceed their formation, the creationist argument that intact biomolecules could not have arisen by chance is completely irrelevant.
Closely tied with the creationist "probability" argument, however, is the assertion that an "intelligent designer" must have directed this process. The most widely-known proponent of this view has been Michael Behe, a Roman Catholic who, unlike most creationists, accepts that life evolved over billions of years and also accepts that humans are evolved from apelike primates, but who thinks that God (uh, I mean "an Unknown Intelligent Designer") intervenes at scertain points to manipulate the evolutionary process. In his book Darwin's Black Box, Behe uses something he calls "irreducible complexity" to illustrate this intervention. "Irreducible complexity" means, according to Behe, that there are systems in the natural world that are made up of a number of interdependent parts, and these systems are so interdependent that they cannot function without the simultaneous presence of all the components. They are "irreducibly complex", and can exist only as a total collection or not at all. As he puts it: "By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional." (Behe, p. 39)
Since the odds that all of these necessary components would have evolved all at once, intact and functional, at the same time are too improbable, and since it is impossible for them to have arisen step by step, Behe concludes, they must have been deliberately placed together by an "intelligent designer". Behe cites a number of biological processes, including the human immune system and blood clotting, which, he says, are "irreducibly complex" and must be the product of an "intelligent designer".
Behe's argument is not really new-it is merely a restatement of an argument made over a hundred years ago by the British clergyman Paley. Paley argued that if we find a watch lying on the grass, we must conclude, from the perfection and intricacy of its structure and function, that it was deliberately constructed by a designer. In the same way, Paley argued, when we look at the intricacy and perfection of the biological world, we must conclude that it, like the watch, is also the product of a designer-the supernatural designer we call God. Paley's thesis has become known as the "argument from design".
The problem with both "irreducible complexity" and the "argument from design" is that neither has anything scientific to say, and both are based solely on religious assumptions. A scientific proposition of the form "life was designed by an intelligent designer" must be capable of being tested and potentially falsified. But how can we do this? How do we differentiate a "designed" organism from an "un-designed" one? What sort of evidence, in principle, would indicate that a "designer" exists, and what sort of evidence would, in principle, argue against the existence of a "designer"? What sort of objective test allows us to distinguish that something was designed (other than simply looking at it and concluding "it sure looks designed to me". . . ) ?
Behe's entire argument is best viewed as a version of the "argument from ignorance". In essence, his entire argument boils down to "I can't see how this process could have evolved step-by-step, therefore it could not have." The fact that Behe (or anyone else) cannot determine how a process evolved step-by-step does not constitute evidence that it did not, however. In fact, in several of the cases that Behe cites as "irreducibly complex", new discoveries in biochemistry have indeed led to descriptions of precisely the sort of step-by-step development that Behe claimed was impossible.
In his work, Behe ignores a very important concept of biological evolution, the idea of "exaptation". This occurs when a biological trait is modified for use in a completely different system, and takes up a new function that it did not have before. Exaptations explain many of the "complex systems" we see in living things.
We can illustrate this with Behe's own example. Behe cites a mousetrap as an illustration of an "irreducibly complex system", and argues that since each component of the mousetrap--the spring, the wooden base, the wire hammer--is necessary for the functioning of the mousetrap, no functional trap can have developed step by step, without all of these things being present. Let us, then, show how a mousetrap could indeed evolve step by step, using exaptation.
We begin with the simplest possible "mousetrap"--a simple piece of bait left out on the floor. When the mouse approaches the bait, we hit it with a hammer.
A slight modification to our existing system. We place the bait in a small hole or hollow in the wall. This has the advantage of momentarily confusing the mouse when we surprise it at the bait, since it takes a moment for the mouse to find the exit hole, giving us more time to hit it with the hammer.
Another slight modification--we place a small metal hinged door over the opening to the hole, which swings freely back and forth. This confuses the mouse slightly more and it takes a little bit more time to find the exit -- giving us a bit more time to hit it with the hammer.
Next, we add a spring mechanism that can be tripped by the mouse as it takes the bait, thus causing the door to close behind it. The advantage is that we no longer have to be waiting there when the mouse enters--instead, the mouse is now confined and can be hit with us by a hammer at any convenient later time.
Another modification: we turn the whole apparatus 90 degrees so it rests horizontally instead of vertically. In other words, our baited hole is now in the floor instead of in the wall. This has the advantage of allowing the mouse to approach our trap from any direction, instead of limiting access to just one side of the wall.
Another modification: We eliminate the hole and simply place the spring door apparatus on the floor in such a way that, when tripped, the trap door slams down forcefully on the floor where the trigger is located, mashing the mouse for us when it trips the trigger. The new advantage is that we no longer have to hit the mouse with the hammer at all--the new trap in effect does that for us.
A final modification. We cut out the part of the floor that surrounds our trap and attach the trap mechanism directly to it. This allows us to deploy our trap anywhere we like, instead of limiting it to one locality.
And there we have it---step by step development of something that is supposed to be "irreducibly complex". Each step is fully functional by itself, and in each step, the intended result is achieved--a dead mouse. Each successive step builds upon the preceding one by small modifications, yet each step is more efficient in some way than its predecessor. And each step uses "exaptation"---it coopts whatever happens to be handy and incorporates it into our growing system. The bait used in the first trap can be a leftover from last night's dinner, or it could be a crumb we find behind the couch. The wall can be anywhere in the house. The free-swinging trapdoor could come from an old Coke machine, or it could be taken from the ice cube maker on the fridge. The spring can come from any bit of machinery we have around the house.
Evolution is full of examples of such exaptation, in which previously unrelated structures are incorporated into developing systems and given new functions. One example is the development of feathers for insulation in small theropod dinosaurs--feathers which were later incorporated into wings as flying mechanisms. A particularly good example of exaptation is the therapsid-mammal fossil series (discussed in another article) which shows the gradual changes that resulted from exapting the reptilian lower jawbones to work as inner ear bones instead.
By claiming such systems to be "irreducibly complex", Behe is demonstrating a basic ignorance of how evolution works.
In effect, Behe's "designer" is nothing more than the old "God of the gaps", in which anything we do not yet understand is attributed to divine action. The problem with this viewpoint is that, as we understand more and more, there is continually less and less for the God of the gaps (or Behe's "designer") to do.
In addition, neither Behe nor anyone else can scientifically say to us anything about their "intelligent designer". What exactly is the scientific theory of intelligent design? According to this scientific theory of intelligent design, what is the intelligent designer? Is it a space alien? A god or goddess? The Great Pumpkin? Time-traveling human bioengineers from the future? What, precisely, does the scientific theory of intelligent design postulate that the intelligent designer(s) do to accomplish these designs? What mechanisms does it use, according to the scientific theory of intelligent design, and where can we see these mechanisms operating today? What scientific data or evidence shows that there is only one "intelligent designer" and not, say, ten or fifty or a hundred of them? Intelligent design "theory" is utterly silent on all these questions. Indeed, intelligent design "theory" cannot even make an attempt to answer these questions, since the answers would reveal instantly the religious basis for this "theory", and would guarantee that "intelligent design theory" would never see the isndie of a public school classroom. For this reason, most "intelligent design theorists" go through all sorts of intellectual contortions to avoid explaining exactly who or what their "intelligent designer" is.
< Another question that immediately leaps to mind is "Who designed the Intelligent Designer"? Behe (and the creationists) will of course answer that the "Intelligent Designer always existed". Any "intelligent designer" that exists outside the laws of nature is, however, by definition, God, and God is by definition religious in nature. It is not scientific, it cannot be tested and it cannot be falsified. It is based solely and only on the creationist religious belief that God designed and created life by divine fiat.
The creationists are of course entirely welcome to this religious assumption if they like it. But they aren't saying anything scientific, and as science, "intelligent design theory" is utterly useless. It makes no testible predictions. It answers no scientific questions. It opens no new area sof investigation, and enables no new experiments that could not be performed without it. In fact, there has not been any scientific discovery, of any note, in any area of science, made in the last 20 years as the result of "intelligent design theory". "Intelligent design theory", it appears, consists solely of the assertions (1) we think there is an Intelligent Designer, (2) we don't know what it is, (3) we don't know what it does, (4) we don't know how it does it, and (5) we don't know how to go about answering any of those questions, but (6) we want you to teach about it anyway. Intelligent design "theory" is religious apologetics, nothing more and nothing less.
It is not, then, surprising that the Intelligent Design movement has lost where it has attempted to paint itself as "science". In 2002, the Discovery Institute led an effort in Ohio to modify the state's science education standards to include "intelligent design theory" as an "alternative" to evolution. State officials did insert an addendum ino the state's science education standards that read: ""Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." The intention of this was to encourage discussion of cutting-edge issues in modern biology, such as the debate over whether birds are descended from dinosaurs or from other archosaurs. The IDer's assumption that this would allow them to present their "alternative science", however, was dashed by another addendum: "The intent of this indicator does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design."
In the face of its Ohio defeat, the ID movement changed its strategy once again, and now only rarely tries to present "intelligent design theory" as a "scientific alternative". Instead, ID advocates now clamor for "teaching the controversy", and argue in favor of requiring schools to teach "the evidence against evolution" without specifying what that evidence is or what scientific alternative they want to offer. Alas for the IDers, when this tactic was put into practice in Texas, in November 2003, they lost just as resoundingly. An effort to require Texas science textbooks to modify their treatment of evolution was rejected by the state textbook committee.
Let's be blunt. There IS NO scientific theory of ID. When pressed, the best they can do is recite a long list of criticisms of evolution -- all of which are baloney, none of which is accepted by the scientific body at large, and most of which are simply restatements of the same tired old "criticisms" that creation "scientists" have been making for almost 50 years now. By declaring that "evidence against evolution, equals evidence for design", the IDers are just continuing the very same "two models" idea that the creation "scientists" tried to argue. Alas for them, the "two models" argument was decisively and explicitly rejected by the 1982 Maclean v Arkansas case, and also in the 1987 Edwards v Aguillard Supreme Court ruling.
Furthermore, and VERY significantly in the legal sense, in the 1982 Maclean v Arkansas case, the federal court listed the characteristics of what constituted "science". That list consisted of:
"More precisely, the essential characteristics of science are:
(1) It is guided by natural law;
(2) It has to be explanatory by reference to nature law;
(3) It is testable against the empirical world;
(4) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word; and
(5) Its is falsifiable. (Ruse and other science witnesses)"
Let's see how Intelligent Design "theory" measures up to those criteria, shall we?
1. "It is guided by natural law." Alas, the IDers lose already. Not only is ID 'theory' NOT "guided by natural law", but ID "theorists" explicitly, clearly and plainly REJECT the idea that science SHOULD be based on "natural law". Indeed, their most fundamental complaint (pardon the pun) is that science in general and evolution in particular are "philosophical materialism" (their code word for "atheism") and that this, they say, unfairly rules out the IDers' NON-materialist or NON-natural "explanations". Hmmm. It sure seems to ME as if the only entity that is even capable in principle of using "non-materialistic" or "super-naturalistic" mechanisms is a deity or god (and if the IDers want to argue with a straight face that the space aliens are capable of using supernaturalistic methods, I'd pay good money to sit in court and watch that). Now I'm no theologian, mind you, but I'm pretty sure that "deities" and "gods" and other "supernatural entities" are religious in nature. I'm no lawyer either, mind you, but I'm also pretty sure that arguing that a supernatural entity or deity designed life using non-materialistic methods, has the intent and effect of advancing religion. Hence, not only is ID "theory" NOT based on natural law, it explicitly REJECTS natural law in favor of supernatural methods. I.e., in favor of religious doctrine. The IDers lose right out of the starting gate.
2. "It has to be explanatory by reference to nature law". See above. ID loses again. Not only does it NOT explain anything by reference to natural law, it tries to argue that it DOESN'T HAVE TO. What the IDers are complaining about in the first place is that science, they say, unfairly rejects anything BUT reference to natural law -- i.e., that science rejects religious explanations. By arguing AGAINST the need for science to be "explanatory by reference to natural law", the IDers are doing nothing more (or less) than arguing that science should be forced by a court order to accept references to NON-natural or SUPER-natural mechanisms. I.e., they are arguing that science should be forced to advance religion. Like I said, I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure there's a law against that.
3. "It is testible against the empirical world". ID loses again. ID 'theory' makes NO testible statements. None at all. It can't tell us what the designer did. It can't tell us what mechanisms the designer used to do whatever it did. It can't tell us where we can see these mechanisms in action. And it can't tell us how to go about testing any of this. ID 'theory' consists simply and solely of various random arguments against evolution, coupled with the already-rejected-by-the-courts "two model theory". ID makes no effort at all to produce any positive arguments on its own that can be tested. Indeed, ID 'theory' can't (or won't) even make any testible predictions about how old the earth is, or whether humans evolved from apelike primates. The best ID can do is declare "evolution can't explain X, Y or Z, therefore we must be right". I.e., the same old "two models" that the courts have already rejected.
4. "Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word". Well, we don't know whether ID passes this test, since ID 'theory" refuses to MAKE any conclusions. As I noted before, ID can't even give a coherent hypothesis, or even tell us how to form one. What do they think the Intelligent Designer might be? They, uh, don't know. What do they think it did? They, uh, don't know that either. What mechanisms did it use? Beats the heck out of them.
Heck, ID "theory" can't (or won't) even reach conclusions on such basic questions as "how old is the earth" ---- billions of years, they say. Or maybe it's just thousands of years. We, uh, aren't sure. "Did humans evolve from apelike primates?" Yes. Or, uh, maybe not. Does ID think its conclusions are "the last word"? Well, I guess we won't know until ID actually MAKES some conclusions.
5. "It is falsifiable". Well, again, we don't know if ID's conclusions are falsifiable, because they go to great lengths to avoid MAKING any conclusions that might be capable of being falsified. I suspect that is deliberate.
However, the core argument of ID 'theory', that God -- er, I mean "An Unknown Intelligent Designer" -- created life, is inherently unfalsifiable. After all, if we know nothing about the Designer, nothing about its nature, and nothing about what it can or can't do, then there is simply no way we can falsify any statement made about it. If I say that the designer does not have the physical or technical capability of manipulating biomolecules, how the heck could we know whether it really did? On the other hand, if I say that the designer HAS manipulated biochemicals, what sort of evidence could we point to which would indicate that it DIDN'T? The whole idea of ID is unfalsifiable. After all, the entire "argument" of ID boils down to "we think an unknown thing did an unknown thing at an unknown time using unknown methods". How the heck can anyone falsify THAT? How the heck can anyone, in principle, demonstrate that an unknown thing did NOT do an unknown thing at an unknown time using unknown methods?
So there you have it. ID does not meet ANY of the criteria listed by the federal court in determining what is or isn't "science". In every conceivable legal sense, ID simply is not science.
The IDers, though, have now come up with a different strategy to force their relgiious opinions into science classes. If their religious opinions aren't science, they now declare, well by golly, they'll simply use the law to change the definition of "science" so it DOES include their religious opinions. As a newspaper interview with DI spokesman Stephen Meyer noted, "Meyer, however, says he's a scientist, who starts with scientific evidence, not the Bible. His goal -- a big one -- is to change the very definition of science so that it doesn't rule out the possibility that an intelligent designer is actively at work." (Seattle Times, March 2005) IDers have already tried to implement this legal tactic in February 2005, when the Kansas Board of Education (after losing an attempt to remove evolution from the state curriculum standards) attempted to revise the curriculum standards to alter the definition of science. Current science standards in Kansas state "Science seeks natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us." (Kansas State Curriculum Standards, 2001) Since ID "science" cannot explain anything through "natural explanations" and indeed doesn't think it should HAVE to, IDers on the Board introduced a measure that would change the standards to allow "non-naturalistic" explanations as well. The effort failed, after provoking the ire of scientists from all over the world.
But how accurate is the ID whining that science unfairly rules out, a priori, supernatural or non-material explanations? As with everything else in ID "theory", this claim is based solely on deception and hand-waving.
The scientific method is very simple, and consists of five basic steps. They are:
1. Observe some aspect of the universe
2. Form a hypothesis that potentially explains what you have observed
3. Make testible predictions from that hypothesis
4. Make observations or experiments that can test those predictions
5. Modify your hypothesis until it is in accord with all observations and predictions
NOTHING in any of those five steps excludes on principle, a priori, any "supernatural cause". Using this method, one is entirely free to invoke as many non-material pixies, ghosts, goddesses, demons, devils, djinis, and/or the Great Pumpkin, as many times as you like, in any or all of your hypotheses. And science won't (and doesn't) object to that in the slightest. Indeed, scientific experiments have been proposed (and carried out and published) on such "supernatural causes" as the effects of prayer on healing, as well as such "non-materialistic" or "non-natural" causes as ESP, telekinesis, precognition and "remote viewing". So ID's claim that science unfairly rejects supernatural or non-material causes out of hand on principle, is demonstrably quite wrong.
However, what science DOES require is that any supernatural or non-material hypothesis, whatever it might be, then be subjected to steps 3, 4 and 5. And HERE is where ID fails miserably.
To demonstate this, let's pick a particular example of an ID hypothesis and see how the scientific method can be applied to it: One claim made by many ID creationists explains the genetic similarity between humans and chimps by asserting that God -- uh, I mean, An Unknown Intelligent Designer -- created both but used common features in a common design.
Let's take this hypothesis and put it through the scientific method:
1. Observe some aspect of the universe.
OK, so we observe that humans and chimps share unique genetic markers, including a broken vitamin C gene and, in humans, a fused chromosome that is identical to two of the chimp chromosomes (with all the appropriate doubled centromeres and telomeres).
2. Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.
OK, the proposed ID hypothesis is "an intelligent designer used a common design to produce both chimps and humans, and that common design included placing the signs of a fused chromosome and a broken vitamin C gene in both products."
3. Use the hypothesis to make predictions.
Well, here is ID supernaturalistic methodology's chance to shine. What predictions can we make from ID's hypothesis? If an Intelligent Designer used a common design to produce both chimps and humans, then we would also expect to see . . . ?
IDers, please fill in the blank.
And, to better help us test ID's hypothesis, it is most useful to point out some negative predictions -- things which, if found, would FALSIFY the hypothesis and demonstrate conclusively that the hypothesis is wrong. So, then -- if we find (fill in the blank here), then the "common design" hypothesis would have to be rejected.
4. Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.
Well, the IDers seem to be sort of stuck on step 3. Despite all their voluminous writings and arguments, IDers have never yet given ANY testible predictions from their ID hypothesis that can be verified through experiment.
Take note here -- contrary to the IDers whining about the "unfair exclusion of supernatural causes", there are in fact NO limits imposed by the scientific method on the nature of their predictions, other than the simple ones indicated by steps 3, 4 and 5 (whatever predictions they make must be testible by experiments or further observations.) They are entirely free to invoke whatever supernatural causes they like, in whatever number they like, so long as they follow along to steps 3,4 and 5 and tell us how we can test these deities or causes using experiment or further observation. Want to tell us that the Good Witch Glenda used her magic non-naturalistic staff to POP these genetic sequences into both chimps and humans? Fine ‚€”- just tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test that. Want to tell us that God -- er, I mean The Unknown Intelligent Designer -- didn‚€™t like humans very much and therefore decided to design us with broken vitamin C genes? Hey, works for me ‚€” just as soon as you tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test it. Feel entirely and totally free to use all the supernaturalistic causes that you like. Just tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test your predictions.
Let's assume for a moment that the IDers are right and that science is unfairly biased against supernaturalist explanations. Let's therefore hypothetically throw methodological materialism right out the window. Gone. Bye-bye. Everything's fair game now. Ghosts, spirits, demons, devils, cosmic enlightenment, elves, pixies, magic star goats, whatever god-thing you like. Feel free to include and invoke ALL of them. As many as you need. All the IDers have to do now is simply show us all how to apply the scientific method to whatever non-naturalistic science they choose to invoke in order to subject the hypothesis "genetic similarities between chimps and humans are the product of a common design", or indeed ANY other non-material or super-natural ID hypothesis, to the scientific method.
And that is where ID "theory" falls flat on its face. It is NOT any presupposition of "philosophical naturalism" on the part of science that stops ID dead in its tracks --- it is the simple inability of ID "theory" to make any testible predictions. Even if we let them invoke all the non-naturalistic designers they want, intelligent design "theory" STILL can't follow the scientific method.
Deep down inside, what the IDers are really moaning and complaining about is NOT that science unfairly rejects their supernaturalistic explanations, but that science demands ID's proposed "supernaturalistic explanations" be tested according to the scientific method, just like every OTHER hypothesis has to be. Not only can ID not test any of its "explanations", but it wants to modify science so it doesn't HAVE to. In effect, the IDers want their supernaturalistic "hypothesis" to have a privileged position ‚€”- they want their hypothesis to be accepted by science WITHOUT being tested; they want to follow steps one and two of the scientific method, but prefer that we just skip steps 3,4 and 5, and just simply take their religious word for it, on the authority of their own say-so, that their "science" is correct. And that is what their entire argument over "materialism" (or "naturalism" or "atheism" or "sciencism" or "darwinism" or whatever the heck else they want to call it) boils down to.
There is no legitimate reason for the ID hypothesis to be privileged and have the special right to be exempted from testing, that other hypotheses do not. I see no reason why their hypotheses, whatever they are, should not be subjected to the very same testing process that everyone ELSE's hypotheses, whatever they are, have to go through. If they cannot put their "hypothesis" through the same scientific method that everyone ELSE has to, then they have no claim to be "science". Period.
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