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7.11 Defining Science

The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge of the natural world without assuming the existence or nonexistence, of the supernatural, an approach sometimes called methodological naturalism.

Intelligent design proponents believe that this can be equated to materialist metaphysical naturalism, and have often said that not only is their own position scientific, but it is even more scientific than evolution.

For a theory to qualify as scientific, it is expected to be:

  • Consistent
  • Parsimonious (sparing in its proposed entities or explanations, see Occam’s razor)
  • Useful (describes and explains observed phenomena, and can be used predictively)
  • Empirically testable and falsifiable
  • Based on multiple observations, often in the form of controlled, repeated experiments
  • Correctable and dynamic (modified in the light of observations that do not support it)
  • Progressive (refines previous theories)
  • Provisional or tentative (is open to experimental checking, and does not assert certainty)

For any theory, hypothesis or conjecture to be considered scientific, it must meet most, and ideally all, of these criteria. Typical objections to defining Intelligent Design as science are that it lacks consistency, violates the principle of parsimony, is not scientifically useful is not falsifiable, is not empirically testable, and is not correctable, dynamic, provisional or progressive.

Critics also say that the Intelligent Design doctrine does not meet the Daubert Standard, the criteria for scientific evidence mandated by the US Supreme Court. Its four criteria are:

  • The theoretical underpinnings of the methods must yield testable predictions by means of which the theory could be falsified.
  • The methods should preferably be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • There should be a known rate of error that can be used in evaluating the results.
  • The methods should be generally accepted within the relevant scientific community.

In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, using these criteria and others mentioned above, Judge Jones ruled that “… we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents”.