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In the popular culture, Intelligent Design is often portrayed as trying to be an alternate theory to evolution. However, as the following question points out, it is not scientific, and so cannot be an alternative theory.

What is the viability of Intelligent Design as a supplement to chemical abiogenesis and Darwinian Evolution?

But, this also puts evolution in a tight spot. Science progresses by competing theories. Yet, there is no competing theory to evolution as a whole, only variations within the theory (e.g. Neo-Darwinism vs Punctuated Equilibrium). So, if there are no scientific alternatives to evolution, does that make it unscientific as well? If there are no proposed alternatives, how do we know evolution got it right? And finally, what would a non-ID alternative to evolution look like?

Full disclosure: I am quite interested in ID, and do believe it is scientific and testable, but that is not what I am addressing with this question.

UPDATE: For those downvoting this question, how do you suggest I improve it? Is it not a valid question?

To use an evolutionary analogy, without a diversity of theories our understanding of where we came from will not evolve and remain fit. Shouldn't evolutionary theory apply to evolutionary theory itself?

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closed as too broad by WYSIWYG, Amory, Cornelius, biogirl, leonardo May 6 '14 at 13:59

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I am quite interested in ID, and do believe it is scientific and testable : How do you propose to test it ? –  WYSIWYG May 5 '14 at 5:55
That's material for another question. Does it interest you? –  yters May 5 '14 at 7:30
No. It doesn't interest me- I think it is a deliberate neo-creationist approach. With a premise that is based on religious belief, no test can be unbiased. Why downvote: Evolution is an active field of research. You should read about it (not necessarily too deeply) and understand its principles before proposing a new theory or to test the validity of a theory that lacks a scientific premise. –  WYSIWYG May 5 '14 at 7:54
Shouldn't evolutionary theory apply to evolutionary theory itself?: Hmm.. That's what research is :) –  WYSIWYG May 6 '14 at 5:35

2 Answers 2

Too long for a comment: You have a misconception about scientific theories: They are not competing what is wrong or right. They are set up, tested, corrected if necessary or discarded if they can not be proven. Science (or more Scientists) has no problem with rejecting a theory when no other is available. There are always things which can not be explained with the current knowledge, but this is the way this process works. And scientists have no problems admitting this.

BTW: It is not theoretical because it is called a theory. Darwin's theory has been proven quite a number of times and works pretty well - but it has its limitations because of findings he couldn't know of, but this doesn't make it wrong. It is a bit like Newton's theory of gravity and Einstein's general theory of relativity. The first cannot explain certain phenomena that the later can, which doesn't make Newton wrong.

The other thing is, that ID is in fact no scientific theory. A theory makes a prediction, has some foundation on earlier work and can be falsified/proven. It will be corrected if it has minor loopholes and discarded if completely incorrect (For example, see Lamarck's theory of evolution, that was once discarded but is being revisited in the light of the recently discovered phenomenon of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance). ID is built just on beliefs and is nothing but a refined form of creationism; it doesn't make predictions and can not be falsified or tested (because it is just a belief). This makes it completely unscientific.

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Well, if we don't have any alternatives, how do we know we have the right theory? For example, see Popper: All other fields of science would be nowhere without being put up against alternative theories and refuting them. –  yters May 4 '14 at 22:57
Again, you have a misconception that hypotheses need to be tested in a competitive fashion. There were alternatives to Darwin's evolution, see Lamarckism. The reason evolution has lasted so long, and was promoted from hypothesis to theory, is because it works extraordinarily well in many circumstances. For the aspects that Darwin could not have known about (e.g., epigenetics), the theory has been improved, or "upgraded", to account for the current body of evidence. –  leonardo May 5 '14 at 0:10
Darwinism and Lamarckism are both different evolutionary mechanisms. –  yters May 5 '14 at 7:29
Additionally, even in the case you mention it is debatable that Darwinism has completely won out over Lamarckism. For example, see the Baldwin effect. –  yters May 5 '14 at 7:31
@yters. there is no war between Darwinists and Lamarckists and there are no fanatic groups that support either of these so called factions. Darwin's theory fits in almost all situations. The neo-Lamarckists are just evoking the term Lamarckism to generate some melodrama. Lamarck himself was not aware of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. Darwin's theory was more complete than Lamarck's, when they were published. What we, as scientists, are trying to proceed towards is a more comprehensive and complete evolutionary theory- that will explain everything. ID is just a hindrance to this. –  WYSIWYG May 5 '14 at 8:03

I try to avoid getting involved in these debates, but I feel the need to point out that if you are going to debate these issues you must make sure that you use terms correctly. Here is the first paragraph from the WP entry for Evolution:

Evolution is the change in the inherited characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.

None of this is theoretical - it is observable. In my opinion the term Theory of Evolution is so broad as to be meaningless.

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This is a good comment but I think when someone shows up and their first act is to set up a soap box they may not be in receiving mode. +1 –  daniel May 5 '14 at 20:13

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