Many… many times I have presented a paper that effectively crushes the claims of creationists and Intelligent Design proponents. However, they always have this (IMHO very telling) reply.
But the experiment was designed, therefore the experiment supports Intelligent Design.
This is false. I will explain why.
First, let’s consider the implications of that statement. There are two.
The first is that this implies that the results of experiment are directly determined by the experimental design. That doesn’t sound too wrong unless you realize that no matter how the experiment was designed, the end result (if you are measuring the same thing) must be the same.
For example, in an experiment designed to measure the speed of light, it doesn’t matter how the experiment is designed, you will always get the same result (given minor changes for the medium in which you are working). If Alice measures the speed of light in a vacuum using a laser and a mirror and bouncing the light off the moon, she will measure the exact same result as Bob who measures the speed of light in a vacuum by wavelength and frequency of a particular type of light.
Both experiments are intelligently designed. And both could give different results. They don’t.
The other side of this coin can be considered with a simple thought experiment.
A roulette wheel is intelligently designed… therefore, the result of each spin is intelligently designed. We know that this is not true. I will admit that the design of the wheel limits the numbers that can be landed on, but the determination on which number is landed on during each spin is random. And this is not a minor little thing like murder. The randomness of roulette wheels is serious business and there are entire government divisions and areas of study devoted to such work.
The experiment is exactly the same. Just because the EXPERIMENT is intelligently designed, doesn’t mean that the result is intelligently designed.
In fact, if the result of the experiment where intelligently designed, then there would not be any point in actually doing the experiment.
Which brings us to the second point. That is the creationist is implying that the scientists are behaving fraudulently. This is not a minor claim. Scientists have lost their jobs for fraudulent claims before.
The scientists’ reputation depends on truthfulness and accuracy (which is interesting when looking at so-called creation scientists).
Why are they behaving fraudulently? Because the experiment is saying what the scientists want it to say. Which is NOT how science works at all. In fact, this simple statement implies a vast global conspiracy of scientists to make sure all the results align with their agenda and to somehow make sure that all the products developed using knowledge gained from these experiments work… oh wait… that kind of implies that the scientists are right.
Besides, have you seen a scientists pay? The vast global conspiracy of poor scientists. Yeah, that makes sense.
One of the hallmarks of science is repeatability. This is so important that many scientists work on confirming previously done experiments. Because if you show someone is wrong, then that’s a big deal. When experiments aren’t repeatable (cough cold fusion cough), then the scientists are in trouble.
What’s very interesting is that is why peer-reviewed research (and your high school lab reports) has that big section on ‘methods’. The goal is to describe how you did something so well, that anyone with the right equipment can do your experiment and get the same results. This is often a little tricky in biology because all living things are slightly different, but statistics covers that pretty well.
Another point to bring up here is that experiments are often very intelligently designed. Look at what you have to consider… You have to make sure that the thing you are measuring is what is really being measured, it’s not always as easy as you think. You have to have a control of some kind. You have to make sure to eliminate sources of error and if you can’t, then you have to explain those sources of error in great detail and you better not miss one or your results are useless. You have to consider all the previous work done in this field and do your results make sense in light of those. Do your results make sense at all? It happens that you might stumble upon something brand new, but it’s much more rare than you might think. Do you have a large enough data set? Do you have observations throughout the experiment? Are the results consistent through multiple runs of the experiment?
So, yes, experiments must very carefully and very intelligently designed. But to imply that the results are therefore also intelligently designed is simply wrong.
One other note. Creationists will often take you to task for an experiment that you talk about because it doesn’t show a particular detail. Very often (actually in every single case), that detail has nothing to do with the experiment.
As I’ve explained, experiments are very specific to measure one very specific thing. If the creationist says anything other than what that experiment shows, then they are erecting a Red Herring. It’s a meaningless objection.
For example, in those two versions of the speed of light experiment, a creationist might well say, “yeah, but that doesn’t explain how light changes speed in a cloud of gas.”
They are correct. The experiment doesn’t show that. It was NOT intended to. Those two experiments were to show the speed of light in a vacuum, not in a nebula. That rebuttal is a Red Herring and meaningless to the actual experiment performed.
I cannot stress this enough. The entire point of experimental procedure is to eliminate all considerations but one (in most cases). Therefore, the experiment is only measuring one thing.
A very common example in the creationist world (and the one that inspired this post (Thanks Southstar and Cubist)) is that of Michael Behe making the claim that two more mutations cannot happen because it is so improbable. The corollary to that is that this can never improve the function of whatever it is. This is simply wrong.
I’ve written about Darwinian Evolution on a Chip before. It simply shows that 4 mutations happened in a population of RNAs and the end result was a 90-fold improvement in efficiency.
Both of Behe’s claims are falsified. It’s that simple. The standard creationist rebuttal is that the mutation rates were beyond anything in the natural world. That’s not true either, but it doesn’t matter. Behe’s claims do not say ‘in the natural world’ (which does include the lab too). Behe’s claims do not say ‘at a mutation rate of x‘. He says that two or more positive mutations can’t happen.
They happened. They happened in less than 72 hours. Claims rebutted.