Barbara Forest: Is ID Science or Not?

Given the assertion that design is commonplace, examples should be relatively easy to provide.

This is a PowerPoint slide I use with my classes of beginning science teachers, usually after having them discuss among themselves the question 'What is science?"

No doubt there are many ways of phrasing these elements, and some would come to more of fewer elements, but I find it at least a useful heuristic.

Does ‘intelligent design’ meet all 4 of these elements?

We can start with the entire field of archaeology.
We can then move to the detection of genetic manipulation by humans.
We can move to aerial searches for human activity.
We can then do what we should have done first: think about what design means and realize that detecting design is so commonplace that the question is actually really weird.

Certainly. And I agree.

But examples of design in the natural world are the topic of discussion.

The fact that we are very good and experienced at detecting human design, and that extensive searches using those same tools have failed to find any examples at all of design in the natural world is a strong argument against ID, I think.

Not for me. If that’s what you want to discuss, then I’ll excuse myself. My comments were a failed attempt to address the question in the title of this ridiculous thread.

How would you define ‘ID’ other than as the search for intelligent design in the natural world? As you have established, the search for design in the human-created world is trivial. ID is certainly defined that way by all its proponents.

Words mean things, largely defined by usage.

The advantage of archaeology is it is aimed at detecting design by intelligences very similar to our own, whose motivations we have a reasonable handle on. Even here however it can get murky in terms of which civilisation designed a given artifact, and even occasionally the motivation for the design of some of the more cryptic artifacts.

Another, albeit problematical, example that is often cited is forensic science. But that field has been rife with methods that have had convictions based upon them for many years, only to be debunked.

I don’t know about the Type I & Type II error rates of detection of genetic manipulation and/or aerial searches for human activity, but given that I haven’t heard any horror stories about them, I’m hoping they are somewhat less problematical.

My point is that design detection, and more particularly attribution, is not always particularly straightforward, even in more ‘respectable’ fields than ID.

Seems a fine definition to me.

Every single thing I listed was a search for design in the natural world. Do you mean to claim that remote sensing in archaeology is somehow not a search in the natural world?

It is absurd to even consider whether Dr. Sarah Parcak’s famous work is not science. But that’s what you are doing when/if you assert that a search for “design in the natural world” is not science. I can’t tell whether you are asserting that, but I hope not because that’s too ridiculous to discuss. (And that is in fact the topic of the discussion that I am having.) If, on the other hand, you are claiming that no one has found non-human design in the natural world, then we can discuss what we all mean by “design” and what it would take to detect it and even what it would mean if we found it. That could be interesting.

So, we agree that design detection is solidly within science. Yay!

1 Like

Yes, but then we never disagreed on that.

My point is, and has always been, that it is relatively “commonplace” for design detection to fall within the realms of speculative, ambiguous (in terms of results) and (in the case of some forensic science methods) just plain bad science.

To use a motoring metaphor, I view it as ‘proceed with caution’, not ‘dead end street’.

1 Like

If we broaden this beyond the DI, which ID proponents are properly testing ID hypotheses? I can’t think of any. At most, they attempt to test evolution.

1 Like

I don’t think any person who self-identifies as an “ID proponent” is doing anything like that; as I wrote above, I don’t think there is much left of “ID thought” anywhere. But one thing I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to emphasize is that this doesn’t mean that ideas that are (to me) relevant to ID are dead. One clear example is the strong emphasis on design principles in many areas of biology, something I’ve discussed before. Another is the topic of “direction” in evolution.

If the topic is “ID proponents,” then the answers are pretty simple. If the topic is “ID” then they aren’t. What this and other conversations at PS can show us is that ID isn’t a topic that most PS people want to explore. Psychologically, given the damaging influence of the DI, this is understandable. Scientifically, it’s really not.

In the context of what Barbara Forrest is talking about, we are well within the territory of “ID proponents”. We could talk about a white supremacy group and say that they could treat everyone equally and try to do good . . . but they aren’t. We call them racist because of what they are doing, not because of what they could do. In the same way, ID is not science.

1 Like

I took the context to be the article linked in the OP, by @swamidass, that explicitly reflected on the science within ID. I foolishly thought that others would want to reflect on that. Time to sign off.

It’s pretty clear to me, at least, that “design detection” is part of science. I’m not sure “Divine design detection” is part of science, but that isn’t explicitly what ID is purporting to do. Moreover, even if they were, it does seem that many of their underlying claims are in fact scientific claims (leaving aside whether or not they are correct or incorrect claims).

Almost all of their arguments are about us seeing something that could not have arisen (or was very unlikely to have arisen) by ordinary evolutionary processes. Those arguments are, in fact, scientific arguments. Just ones that have not worked. But is there a positive theory of ID that is scientific? Not as far as I can see. So the negative arguments about evolution are scientific, the positive arguments about Design are theological. And saying that we have to include in our curricula an alternative scientific theory called Intelligent Design, is absurd because there is no such theory. Just arguments against evolution.


I bought that book. I found it weakly argued. Had some on-line exchanges with him/her too. “The Design Matrix” was supposed to be followed by a sequel where Gene would provide the evidence for his arguments in his first book. No such sequel came forth. S/he has a fringe Christian blog now.


I recall it as a mixed bag. Plenty of basic errors but lots of clear-headed exploration of design concepts and an emphasis on front loading. No religion that I recall.

Oh that’s disappointing. I can’t find it online so maybe took it down? His old Design Matrix blog hasn’t been updated in a few years but it’s neither Christian nor fringe.

You motivated me to google and I came across my review of The Design Matrix at Amazon.

I also came across this old WordPress-hosted blog of Mike’s where he speaks highly of you!

I have come to enjoy reading Steve Matheson’s blog, but it looks like it is gone.

His current location is Shadow to Light - Embracing Faith. Fringe was possibly not the right word. Views expressed are pretty right-wing. The last time we had an exchange, it was over his claim that there was an atheist conspiracy that was threatening US democracy. I disagreed saying there was no evidence for any organised atheist political group. I was then banned from the site. :zipper_mouth_face:

1 Like

@sfmatheson Further on Mike Gene, I note contributor @jongarvey has had kind things to say about Mike Gene.