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Intelligent design

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Intelligent design (ID) "holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."[1]

ID does not identify who the intelligent designer is; rather, the Intelligent Design movement limits itself to the biochemical evidence for design, although some intelligent design advocates personally believe that the designer is God.[note 1]

Some critics believe ID's arguments to be false; these critics have made common cause with naturalistic scientists who (while perhaps not rejecting ID in principle) are concerned that it will set science back if any sort of supernatural cause of events is allowed within the framework, and label ID as a form of creationism, doing all they can to exclude it from science. In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, a U.S. court ruled that this was the case, and barred intelligent design from U.S. public schools.[2]


ID and science

Critics charge that ID is not science, because, they say, it makes no scientific predictions, publishes no scientific papers, and assumes the existence of God.

ID proponents have identified a number of pro-ID papers that have been published in journals.[3] However, it's also the case that critics object to the publication of pro-ID papers. When Stephen Meyer published a pro-ID paper in the Journal of the Biological Society of Washington, people opposed to ID were outraged, leading to the Society disowning the paper, and promising to never publish a pro-ID paper again.

Intelligent Design, as a science, does not assume the existence of God, although many of its proponents would themselves believe that the designer is God. Critics use this fact to support their claim that ID invokes God, although they do not similarly reject evolution because of the atheistic beliefs of many of its supporters.

Not yet a fully-fledged theory

In a 2004 interview with Touchstone: A Journal of mere Christianity, Paul Nelson, a PhD of Philosophy, ID advocate, and supporter of the Discovery Institute stated

Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a real problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity”—but, as yet, no general theory of biological design.[4]


Intelligent design is a highly flexible intellectual framework. For some, it can be reconciled with Young Earth Creationism; for others, such as the well known Dr. Michael Behe — a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute — it is fully compatible with common descent and ideas of an Old Earth.[5]

ID and creationism

Critics accuse Intelligent Design of being creationism in sheep's clothing, while Intelligent Design proponents and biblical creationists both deny that the two concepts are the same. There are overlaps between creationism and Intelligent Design, but also differences.


The main overlap is that both concepts make use of the Design argument, the idea that life was designed rather than the result of random processes. The Design argument has long been used by biblical creationists,[6] and was first popularised by William Paley in his book Natural Theology, published in 1802. Paley used the existence of design to argue for the existence of God. However, Intelligent Design, unlike biblical creation, does not make any attempt to identify the designer.

Another large overlap is between the group of people who support biblical creation and those that support Intelligent Design. However, the mere fact that a large group of people support two concepts does not make them the same thing. Furthermore, a significant number of Intelligent Design supporters are not Christians and therefore not biblical creationists.

Critics make considerable mileage from the fact that a prominent Intelligent Design textbook, Of Pandas and People, was originally intended to be a creationist textbook. However, the book is about the Design argument, so is compatible with both concepts. That again does not mean that both concepts are the same.


A major difference is that while biblical creationists start with the biblical account, Intelligent Design confines itself to scientific arguments. This distinction is significant because biblical creationists use the Fall to explain some instances of apparent bad design, an argument that is not available to Intelligent Design.

In addition, biblical creation has a broader scope, concerning itself with cosmology, geology, and anthropology as well as biology, and argues about the age of the Earth, while Intelligent Design limits itself to biology and does not concern itself with how old things are. Many Intelligent Design proponents are quite comfortable with the secular view on the age of the Earth.


The American anti-creationist and anti-Intelligent Design lobby group National Center for Science Education labels Intelligent Design as "'Intelligent Design' Creationism", and justifies it by pointing to the history of the use of the Design argument and the motives of some of its proponents.[7]

The Committee on Culture, Science and Education in the Council of Europe issued a report in 2007 calling for member states to oppose the teaching of creationism.[8] In it, Intelligent Design was described as a form of creationism, but without providing any justification. This was despite it also admitting that Intelligent Design contradicts creationism.

On the other hand, creationists and Intelligent Design proponents both say that they are not the same thing.

Carl Wieland, the Managing Director of Creation Ministries International has explained both the areas of common interest and areas of disagreement between the biblical creationists and Intelligent Design advocates, including their refusal to identify the designer as the God of the Bible.[9] Wieland also says that "As a movement, [Intelligent Design proponents] are unwilling to align themselves with biblical creationism."


John Whitcomb criticises ID for ignoring the biblical aspect:

Apart from the revelation God has given to us of Himself in the Bible, everything in the universe remains a "black box." Not even the Intelligent Design Movement can penetrate this box, because they have officially denied the Lord Jesus Christ His rightful place in their thinking and thereby have rejected "all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:2-3)[10]

Who is the Designer?

Intelligent design claims that life shows clear evidence of having been designed by an intelligent designer, but does not claim to be able to determine scientifically who that designer actually was. It is fair to say the majority of proponents of Intelligent Design believe that life was designed by the Judeo-Christian God. However, there is nothing in the theory itself which says the Designer must be God; the Designer could have been a polytheistic pantheon of deities, or intelligent alien life.

The religion of Raëlism, which teaches that life on earth was created artifically by aliens called the Elohim, has supported the Intelligent Design movement as fundamentally compatible with its own views.

Richard Dawkins, in an interview with Ben Stein for the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, conceded that it was possible that scientists could find evidence of design in nature, although if that were the case he would, as an atheist, attribute this design to advanced aliens rather than any supernatural being.[11]

These facts haven't stopped critics charging that the theory is religious or that it presupposes the existence of God.

See also


  1. For example the Discovery Institute's Wedge Document shows that at least some of them personally interpret the designer as the Christian God. The document states as one of its goals: "We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."


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