Barbara Forest: Is ID Science or Not?

This conversation is an old standard, but we want to keep focused on the details of this particular interview. Do not go off-topic or into repetitive arguments.

@Faizal_Ali, great post on this topic from your blog was quoted extensively here.

Leading ID proponents are religious, and they do find religious significance in their scientific work. In my view, this does not make ID intrinsically religious. Science does not, ultimately, care about out personal beliefs. Scientists like Micheal Behe and Doug Axe have made several purely scientific claims about how biology works. Often these claims are directly testable with evidence too.

For example, Axe’s argues that enzymes are very vanishingly rare in protein sequence space. That is a direct and testable claim that should not depend on personal religious beliefs. Axe goes on to make inferences to “design,” using this as a critical starting point. Of course, he also does find religious significance in this. He believes, as do I, that the “designer” is actually God. But that is his personal views, and not necessarily his scientific claim.

How do the (discredited but) “purely scientific claims” of ID differ from the likewise discredited but ‘purely scientific claims’ of YEC? The claim, for example, that all geological evidence could have been created by single worldwide flood.

I would suggest that all forms of ‘Scientific Creationism’ (YEC or ID) attempt to make their claims in a “purely scientific” form.

I would further suggest that the common themes of such efforts would be (i) a fairly obvious religious motivation, (ii) a lack of any significant acceptance by the scientific community, and (iii) a rejection of some aspect(s) of the scientific community’s consensus explanation of the development of life, the Earth and/or the Universe.



One aspect of this case that is often forgotten, which I believe @NLENTS reminded viewers of in one of your videos. What would have happened if the school board had prevailed in the Dover case, which was not outside the realm of possibility? It could have meant creationism would have run rampant across the nation and be found in school curricula everywhere. But that ignores the political outcome of the Dover trial: After the trial had concluded, but before the verdict was reached, an election of the school board was held and all the pro-ID members summarily defeated. It strikes me as highly significant since, at least in my experience, incumbents almost always win school board elections.

And, IIRC, the same thing happened at the Kansas school board that endorsed ID.

So it seems likely that, in the end, parents care enough about their children’s education, and are scientifically literate enough, to want to avoid their kids being provided religious proselytization when they should be learning biology and would have taken the necessary steps to ensure this did not happen. Which is easily done in a democracy.

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It probably didn’t help the incumbents that none of their membership who featured as witnesses in the trial came across as particularly honest or competent.

Even a fence-sitter who might be inclined to give half an ear to Creationism, would be less inclined to a Board who seemed hell-bent on giving Creationism a bad name. This would likely have reduced those voting for them to the ‘true believers’.


The Lemon test is a big factor. What was the purpose of pushing the book “Of Pandas and People” onto high school students?

As Barbara Forrest demonstrated, “Of Pandas and People” was explicitly creationist, and all they did to make it an ID reference was replace the overt mentions of supernatural creation with intelligent design (including the infamous “cdesign proponentists” transitional fossil). The Wedge Document is overtly religious, and it spells out the goals of the leading institute that supports the ID movement. Axe also works for that very institution, as do many of the leading advocates of ID. There is also ample evidence that ID was designed (pun intended) to get around constitutional prohibitions on teaching creationism.

We could also look at what ID scientists are doing. Are any of them submitting research grants based on ID reasoning? Are they trying to expand our knowledge of basic science, or are they more interested in apologetics? If you scan the websites supported by the Discovery Institute, do you get a feeling they are an institution pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge?

ID is strongly tainted by the religious and political movements that founded it. I don’t see how it can currently extricate itself from it.


Indeed. But I think that the ID people don’t want to actually extricate themselves from those connections. A desire to promote religious fundamentalism is the core reason – the only reason worth mentioning, really – that there is such a thing as ID. What the ID people want is a free pass to have those connections ignored.


That’s my conclusion as well. When the Discovery Institute books speaking engagements, where are they? Are they at scientific conferences? No. Those speaking engagements are at churches. Where does DI’s funding come from? From overtly religious institutions. The reason for their founding and continuing existence is for the purpose of evangelizing.

It is possible that ID, and even creationism, could become a viable scientific theory in the future. However, it isn’t right now, nor does there seem to be any concerted effort of pushing ID in that direction. I have even heard @Agauger complain about their limited research budget at the DI, which is commendable on her part. Their major problem is that ID can’t stand on its own. If they don’t have evolution to argue against what are they left with?


I agree with you and @Puck_Mendelssohn that the DI is not remotely a “scientific” organization and that its goals and activities are religious/political and in fact anti-science.

But to me (meaning this is just my opinion/preference) that’s not an answer to the question in the title of the thread. The DI is a joke, sure, but DI ≠ ID. There are questions and claims and people who are about intelligent design (or just design) that have nothing to do with the DI. Which I think you agree with:

ID questions can be scientific anytime, including now. I can’t picture how ID can be a “viable scientific theory,” since the bar is very high for that in my view. But any question about design, intervention, or purpose can be solidly scientific even if the means of answering it is unclear or unachievable.

Does the modern ID movement (as it exists at the DI) do science? No, please, give me a break. Does that question have anything to do with ID? Nope.


And I don’t see how it ever will. The modern ID movement is basically a philosophy pretending to be—and even trying to convince itself that it is—science. A genuine scientific study of whether design can be detected in living things is theoretically possible but I don’t see how a “business model” (i.e., a funding strategy) for a viable research institute in ID is likely to succeed.

Indeed, the Discovery Institute makes no scientific progress for exactly that reason (and several others.) To bring in donations it has to focus on propaganda to a Dunning-Kruger Effect consumer, not doing real science and producing peer-reviewed publications. And to please those donors (many of whom are Young Earth Creationists), they have to allow and even cultivate their reputation as an anti-evolution and anti-atheism organization—even though many of their people affirm evolutionary processes (and one of their Senior Fellows is an agnostic.) In these regards, Evolution News & Views makes my case for me.

Meanwhile, I’ve known plenty of Discovery Institute supporters who fervently deny that their favorite organization has anyone on board who acknowledges evolution or even millions of years of earth history.


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Yes, sure. And I think it is tragically clear that the DI makes it extremely hard to undertake any study or consideration of design in living things. I submit this thread as evidence.

I would agree. However the size of the DI’s megaphone is so large (and has been for the entire time that ID has had prominence) that it is hard to notice anybody, that one might otherwise associate with ID, that are unaffiliated. I certainly cannot bring to mind a prominent ID figure that is unaffiliated.

This also has meant that a good number of previously-unaffiliated figures have allowed themselves to be co-opted, in order to gain access to that megaphone. It may also mean that many of those who don’t choose to be co-opted may be uncomfortable with the label ID, due to its close association with the DI.

Me neither but I’d love to be wrong. Many years ago (circa 2008) there was at least one interesting design thinker who was independent of the DI. He wrote a decent book called The Design Matrix under the name “Mike Gene.” I had some very good discussions with him.

My friend and former colleague Del Ratzsch did some fantastic scholarship on design. I mention him and his excellent work here occasionally.

I don’t think Simon Conway Morris ever self-identified as someone who backs ID, but his ideas overlap considerably with ID and he cited Michael Denton approvingly in his 2003 book Life’s Solution.

Here in 2021, there’s not much left of ID thought anywhere, since design is a minor subject in the DI’s landfill. But IMO there used to be some respectable discussion of design in biology.

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In that vein, I would say ID is as scientific as YEC. In fact, I would say that YEC is more scientific than ID because YEC makes obvious and easily testable positive claims. All ID really says is that evolution can’t do something it can’t define which makes it rather hard to test scientifically.


I agree that it’s not that easy to find ID-based claims that clearly testable but I still think this judgment of “ID” is really a judgment of the DI and the laughable “ID movement.”

The detection of design and even purpose is commonplace in science. (Cf. the regularly cited comparison to SETI.) Arguing about design, and even intelligent design, is very properly the domain of science. The DI can’t do that because it’s not about science and it’s not about design.

One trouble with SETI as a comparitor is that it has not in fact detected design yet. Their methodology may seem reasonable (particularly in comparison to DI-ID), but until we actually detect some “Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence” (either through SETI or via some other means), it is hard to know for certain if it is a good method.

So you are not sure whether SETI is science?

That was not my point. My point was that SETI is not evidence that “the detection of design and even purpose is commonplace in science”, because SETI has never detected design.

Returning to your question, my answer is yes, SETI is science.

However whether it is good science will necessarily remain an open question until ET Intelligence is eventually discovered (which may lead us to discover that, in hindsight, we should have been doing things differently).

(The problem is that we know very little about ET Intelligence, so our attempts to detect it are necessarily speculative.)

That’s a silly word game. SETI is one of many perfect “comparitors” to illustrate that seeking (and sometimes detecting) design is commonplace in science. I guess I thought that would be obvious.

If it is a “silly word game” to consider a project that has never in its history detected design as considerably less-than-“perfect” evidence of “commonplace” detection of design, then you will have to consider me to be very very silly. :expressionless: