I’m a big fan of the scientific method. Great stuff. Better than Cats. And as such, I’ve been wracking my brain during non-peak cycles to try and figure out if Intelligent Design is falsifiable.

Quick explanation for those who aren’t down with falsifiability: a philosopher by the name of Karl Popper came up with a way to test whether a given theory was truly scientific or just pseudo-scientific: see if it is possible to prove it wrong. He didn’t say prove it wrong, just show that there’s at least one hypothetical test where it could be proven wrong. The classic example here is astrology. It’s not falsifiable, because any time you come up with a case where it might fail, the astrologer can just say, “Oh, the planetary alignment was off” or “there’s an unknown celestial influence at work that wasn’t accounted for.” Yes, yes, this is a hyper-simple example, but I’m writing this while rebuilding a database that’s worth at least a million dollars. Pardon my brevity.

In the interest of delving into the whole Intelligent Design debate, I’ve been trying to think up a falsification example for ID. The problem is that in each of my thought experiments, I get to a point where the voice playing ID’s advocate says, “Of course you can’t test that; only the Designer was privy to that.” Can’t find any prototypes for a design? The Designer removed them. Find flaws that make no sense, like the human appendix or the fact that amongst all of life with developed eyes, only the squid doesn’t have a blind spot? That was a decision made by the Designer for reasons we don’t understand. Find that junk DNA is common across different species? Same as the last one – that’s deliberate, it doesn’t indicate evolution, it just shows that the Designer used the same raw material for everything and left the junk in there for some reason we don’t get.

Once again, oversimplified. Still building the database. Bite me.

Then I ran across this article: Is ID Testable? The person who wrote it seems to be burdened by an overabundance of education, but they raise a very good point: one of the cornerstones of ID is irreducible complexity, or the existance of a biological entity that is too complex to have been the product of stepwise evolution.

Now, I think that hypothesis is begging the question, because not all developments need be functional. But that does present a definite criteria for falsification. If you can produce alternative theories to account for the appearance of irreducible complexity, you’ve yanked a vital leg out from under ID.

Food for thought.

No Responses to “Aha!”

  1. David Says:

    I just couldn’t help myself.

    DNA is and is not like software code. They are alike in the sense that they are both symbolic representations of other things. But software exists in a much different environment than DNA does. Software needs a compiler or interpreter to work. And it needs a central processing unit in order to do anything. I don’t see an analog to either of these in the cell.

    I don’t believe that the existence of expressible code indicates an intelligent author. There’s an old adage amongst lisp hackers that in lisp, you don’t write programs; you write programs which write programs. There’s also a type software called a genetic algorithm in which the code itself is not written by a human being at all. You create a test environment which evaluates the suitability of a given function for a given task. You then start randomly generating functions and testing them. When a function performs better than others at accomplishing the task, you make copies of it and combine it with other well-performing programs, occasionally throwing in new bits of randomness. In this way it is possible to arrive at very efficient functions. Some of the code generated this way is incomprehensible to us, but it works.

    There is also the concept of emergent behavior, which is behavior in a complex system that was not designed into it.

    Also, self-replication isn’t limited to what we consider living things. Crystals will propagate their structure given the appropriate medium. Weather patterns can be self-propagating. I believe you can find self-replicating patterns at every level from the subatomic to the celestial.

    But how many of those patterns have developed communications protocols? Now there’s an interesting question.

    So, no. Code does not need to be created by an intelligence.

  2. anon Says:

    Thanks for the entertaining response/lively discussion!!

  3. David Says:


    “Wouldn’t some sort of intelligence have to have programmed that code, albeit an imperfect intelligence that created imperfect code?”


  4. anon Says:

    No comment on the scientific method stuff, but I would think programmers would find it difficult not to reflect on the fact that DNA is a code. Yes, geological and astronomical objects have a chemical structure, but the code for life is programmed to spawn child processes. How did this code come about in the simplest of organisms? Wouldn’t some sort of intelligence have to have programmed that code, albeit an imperfect intelligence that created imperfect code?

  5. Daphne Says:

    Okay, that last brain cell that I had that was really working, has just exploded. This is an excellent post to get one’s mind going!

    Really I’m very interested in the ID/Evolution debate, but I’m so tired because I haven’t evolved to be able to live on 4 hours of sleep, nor did any intelligent designer foresee my need for living on 4 hours of sleep. :) Nursing school is punishing…