Design Metrics

In 2004 the Dover Area School District required that Intelligent Design be taught alongside evolution as a viable explanation for the diversity of life. 11 parents in the district sued the school district, launching the pivotal Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case.

During the landmark case it became abundantly clear early drafts of the central text to be used for Intelligent Design drew heavily from the creationist book “Biology and Origins”. Throughout the “new” book “Of Pandas and People” simply replaced the word “creation” with “design”, or “creationist” with “intelligent design proponent”. In one case this rampant search and replace editing created the now famous “cdesign proponentsists“. It seems clear from even this information that intelligent design is creationism in a lab coat.

Nevertheless, a new wave of believers have attached themselves to the scientific sounding “theory of intelligent design” and speak of “design”, “purpose”, and “complexity” without a understanding even the basics of the scientific process.

The very centre of science isn’t the complexity of the Large Hadron Collider, examining bacteria with a microscope, or studying the cosmos through a telescope. Science observes the natural world and proposes models which explain its behaviour. Proposed models should possess two characteristics; they should make predictions about the natural world, and be falsifiable. The first characteristic allows the model to be tested against the natural world for verification and accuracy, while the second provides a method by which the model could be proven wrong; since a model which cannot be wrong either makes no testable predictions or is impervious to refinement or debate.

And so we come back to intelligent design. What predictions does it make? It seems to me that ID essentially says “things are complex therefore they were designed” or “things seem to have a purpose, therefore they do, and so they were designed for that purpose”.

The problem with asserting that complexity equates to design is that anything which exists (and therefore has attributes and properties) has some level of complexity. A thing which has no attribute or properties to be explained is not a thing at all – it is nothing. So there is simply no way to falsify intelligent design on tis front; no matter how simple something might be it can always be claimed to be the product of “design”.

But surely this is not what the faithful are honestly proposing? Perhaps I am being too harsh? There must be some level of complexity which requires a designer, and which below no designer is required? If this is the case, why can some things exist without a designer while other things cannot? Or put more pointedly, what *is* the level of complexity at which a designer is mandatory? 1 in 100? 1 in 1 million? Where is the line, and why is it there?

Moreover, how exactly do you measure “complexity”? What is the metric the pious are using to determine the probability of “design”? In their world *everything* is designed, so there is no point of contrast. There are no non-designed things to compare the designed things with; and when an hypothesis explains everything, it explains nothing. After all, it’s not much of a prediction to say everything *looks* designed without a method to determine if it’s actually the case.

Posted March 18, 2012
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