I'm asking this here as a devil's advocate question because this was closed on skeptics before it received a proper (IMHO) answer.

So, to state the question, if inferring from an object's properties whether it was designed or not is something done in archeology, then how is that any different when done in (the intelligent design version of) biology.

Since I apparently have to give an explanation here how is this different than the other question: if you simply consider ID = creationism, the question are roughly similar, at least as far as answers' premises are concerned. But this/my question is about a specific way (argument) in which ID is presented/promoted, which is entirely absent from the question on creationism. And by the way, it's not even something I made up. It was proposed in this form by Dembski, who has some philosophy credentials. Sure, you can dig through the dozen answers in the other question, and maybe someone has explained this particular aspect regarding ID... but on a first glance it wasn't obvious which answer over there did that.

  • Possible duplicate of Why aren't creationism and natural science on the same intellectual level? Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 4:42
  • @SwamiVishwananda: I can see how from the helicopter that question might seem the same but some of the relevant details in particular the question-analogy based on object properties that needs to be refuted isn't present there. Even though the deep premises of the refutation are the same (owing to the nature of ID and respectively science), it still needs to be spelled out.how the analogy fails rather than generically reiterate the definitions, IMHO. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 4:58
  • and what biology holds intelligent design as a valid hypothesis? And what are the verifiable facts that that hypothesis says exist? Intelligent design is a castle in the sky, unverifiable using accepted scientific methodologies. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 5:03

3 Answers 3


The difference is in the utility. Intelligent Design (ID) is a valid hypothesis in the sense that it can be applied to observations. In a trivial way, it also has pretty good explanatory power i.e. "because God made it that way" is surprisingly all encompassing. In fact, it's so good at this that it applies to archaeology just as well as it does biology.

Where it fails as a scientific hypothesis is that it has zero predictive power. If you find, say, a shard of pottery at an archaeological site, ID would give you no new information as to what else you may find.

As such, having ID as a hypothesis is indistinguishable from having no hypothesis at all with respect to utility.

  • Wow this is a great explanation and the first one I've seen that honestly addresses the question. Just one point - does evolution, say have predictive powers?
    – TheAsh
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 15:13
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    @TheAsh Absolutely evolution has predictive powers. It's called the fossil bunny argument. Evolution gives very accurate predictions though they're not very precise. At least compared to something like quantum mechanics. What's sometimes less clear is the mechanism that caused a particular aspect of evolution e.g. environmental selection, random mutation or design (such as breeding). But that's orthogonal to evolution itself which is exceptionally well established.
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 16:38
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    &Alex. Isn't ID concerned with the existence and adaptations of biological organisms, principally but not only human being ? Archaeology is concerned with the traces past organisms have left. ID, which is a theological thesis, is not intended to apply at the level of archaeology; it offers (or claims or hopes to offer) a challenge to evolutionary biology.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 16:10
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    @GeoffreyThomas Sure, that's what it's intended for. My point is that it's explanatory coverage is very good. If you ask "Why does this pottery shard have this pattern" then ID can answer "because God made it that way". Now, it's not a very useful answer. You can't do anything with that answer. It won't help you say anything about the likelihood of the pattern on the next shard you find. You may as well not have it as an answer. But it is an answer.
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 16:26
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    "it has zero predictive power". Not necessarily. The fact is that all it's predictive power may be covered by other theories as well (although ID is pretty more powerful when it comes to strange, seemingly prophetic, dreams, for example).
    – rus9384
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 0:22

Archeologists do not invoke non-material entities acting by unknown means as the default process for producing an object.

Archeologists know a lot more about the potential designers, not only that they were human (or in some cases primates), but also roughly when and where they lived, so their needs, available materials, and skills can be known or at least estimated.

Furthermore, there is such as thing as experimental archelogy that relies on direct observations of the behavior of a close proxy of the would-be creators (us), whereas no such experiments are conducted by the ID proponents.

The above is explained in much richer detail in an article by Gary Hurd in the book Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism.

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    So your arguments seek to establish that: (1) the humans which archaeologists study are not God; (2) they are not creators in the same way that God is the Creator; and, (3) it doesn't do any good to use experimental archaeology to speculate about how God created the world. Praise God! His ways are not our ways!
    – user3017
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 9:30
  • Uh, why would archaeologists necessarily know anything about a "potential designer?" Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 17:38
  • @DanielGoldman: It's a matter of prior probabilities. Sure they could assume the object came from an extraterrestrial species, but they usually don't do that. Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 21:40
  • "His ways are not our ways!" As are the ways of the Dementors, Klingons, and Thor. In the entire history of humanity there is not one single instance of direct, observational, measurable, physical, repeatable, non-philosophy-dependent, interactive piece of evidence to know what "his ways" are, merely philosophical speculation with no tests, verification or empirical knowledge about the philosophy.
    – user6552
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 19:48

There are many differences between the two. Intelligent design is a theory. Archaeology is a field of scientific investigation. Fields of scientific investigation have their own theories, methods of constructing and testing theory, etc. So the first difference is a matter of scale and scope. It is kind of like asking what the difference is between one song and an album.

The second difference is the type of album on which you would find intelligent design. As Alex pointed out, intelligent design is not complete from a scientific perspective. It contains elements which cannot be used to make a prediction which could falsify them. This lack of falsifiability is key to determining whether or not a theory is scientific or not.

I am not sure that it has zero predictive power, because intelligent design is essentially all of current evolutionary theory, with a single key modification: god can mess with the process and has. As long as we assume that god isn't meddling with a specific aspect of the process, then we make predictions as normal. For instance, we would still expect antibiotic resistance, etc. But once we assume god is "working in mysterious ways" then all bets are off.

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    Don't dignify ID by calling it a theory. It's a political/social movement. Science has standards of ethics and methodology to create theories to explain phenomena. ID starts with the result and works backward to justify it. Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 1:17
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    ID is a theory, regardless of whether it is a scientific theory. Additionally, if you are engaging in scientific investigation, you start with the theory and try to falsify it. It is a deductive process of proof by contradiction, not a constructive process. That's design thinking. Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 17:02
  • I agree completely about falsification--yes, the value of a scientific hypothesis is how many for how long have tried to prove it false, and failed. Only after many years of such failures can a hypothesis be granted the dignity of "theory". Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 17:51
  • Comments aren't really for a detailed argument. I'll just say that the use of hypothesis and theory are bastardizations of the Baconian and Popperian methods and leave a link to my full (draft) discussion on the issue. osf.io/2vdmh Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 18:34
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    "ID is a theory, regardless of whether it is a scientific theory." This plainly ignores the differences between theory as it is defined in science here en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_theory , and the common usage of the word, which means weak guess or hypothesis. I don't know how anyone can honestly say ID is a theory while simultaneously understanding what Germ Theory, Theory of Gravitation, and Theory of Evolution are (i.e. reliable, accurate, detailed descriptions and predictions of nature). ID does none of these things. It is by definition, not a theory.
    – user6552
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 2:02

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