The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Intelligent design

For the book, see Intelligent Design (book).

Intelligent design (ID) describes a controversial set of arguments which assert that empirical evidence supports the conclusion that life on Earth was deliberately designed by one or more intelligent agents.

ID advocates argue that the standard scientific model of evolution by natural selection is insufficient to explain the origin, complexity, and diversity of life. More specifically, ID adherents believe that there exist instances of irreducible complexity, which in their view are impossible to evolve and therefore must have been created by an intelligent designer.

Most ID critics regard the intelligent design theory as a thinly-disguised form of creationism.



Claimed by its advocates to expose the limitations of scientific orthodoxy and of the secular philosophy of naturalism, the well-organized ID movement has attracted considerable press attention and pockets of public support, especially among Christian fundamentalists in the US. These supporters embrace ID as an alternative to and critique of orthodox science, and many advocate that ID should be offered alongside the standard scientific models in public school curricula.

ID has found little support among scientists. Mainstream scientific institutions such as National Academy of Sciences have described ID as pseudoscience, based on arguments that have been thoroughly refuted in the past. ID is often characterized as an updated version of William Paley's 19th century creationist "argument from design."

ID distiguishes itself from overtly religious creationist dogma, however: most ID arguments are cast in entirely secular terms, without appeals to religious authority nor any explicit claim about the identity of the "Intelligent Designer(s)." Critics have labeled ID "stealth creationism," a veiled attempt to reintroduce religious ideas into the scientific realm and the public schools. ID advocates, in turn, accuse their critics of refusing to honestly consider arguments that threaten the scientific community's dogmatically held assumptions. Thus, the subject of Intelligent Design is deeply embedded in political controversies, with charges of bias and bad faith being made on all sides.

Origin of the term

The phrase "intelligent design", used in this sense, appeared in Christian creationist literature, including the textbook Of Pandas and People (Haughton Publishing Company, Dallas, 1989).

The term was promoted more broadly by the legal scholar Phillip E. Johnson following his 1991 book Darwin on Trial. Johnson's assertion, and a key tenet of the ID movement, is Theistic realism, and the rejection of philosophical naturalism.

ID as a movement

The Intelligent Design movement is an organized campaign to promote ID arguments in the public sphere, primarily in the United States. The hub of the movement is the Center for Science and Culture, a subsidiary of the Discovery Institute, a politically conservative think tank. According to Reason magazine, promotional materials from the Seattle-based Discovery Institute acknowledge that the Ahmanson family donated $1.5 million to the Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture for a research and publicity program to "unseat not just Darwinism but also Darwinism's cultural legacy." Howard Ahmanson Jr., amongst others.

Mr. Ahmanson funds many causes important to the Christian religious right, including Christian Reconstructionism, whose goal is to place the U.S. "under the control of biblical law" (sources: Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, Oxford University Press, 2004, and "Avenging angel of the religious right" in Salon Magazine). Though many within the ID movement are unashamedly motivated by religious commitment, ID proponents generally rely on secular sources for building arguments. Nevertheless, ID also engages the current materialistic understanding of the universe:

"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."

(source The Discovery Institute: The "Wedge Document": "So What?"). Therefore, ID may be described as a more robust revision of the argument from design made famous by William Paley in the early 19th century.

Rejection of ID by the scientific community

The most common response of ID's opponents in the scientific community is to simply reject the ID claims as being scientifically illegitimate. For example, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education have described ID as pseudoscience. Nonetheless, the ID movement continues to attract a contingent who advocate teaching about ID in school science curricula, on grounds of full disclosure regarding perceived shortcomings of Darwinian evolution, and counteracting what they perceive to be an institutionalized atheistic presumption of much of the scientific establishment, thereby promoting a general hostility towards religious expression in social and academic discourse (see Creation and evolution in public education). Critics have in turn labeled ID "stealth creationism," a veiled attempt to reintroduce religious ideas into the scientific realm. They argue that it is merely designed to circumvent already existing legal protections against establishment of religion in previous Supreme Court cases, and that ID advocates are but religious zealots bent on polluting the discourse. They point to the many associations between ID and the religious right, and numerous examples of ID proponents making accusations of "bigotry" as proof that ID is not a scientific movement.

The Intelligent Design Debate

The intelligent design debate centers on three issues: First, whether the definition of science is broad enough to allow for theories of human origins which incorporate the acts of an intelligent designer; second, whether the evidence supports such theories; third, whether the teaching of such theories is appropriate in public education.

ID supporters generally hold that science must allow for both natural and supernatural explanations of phenomena, because excluding supernatural explanations unnecessarily limits the realm of possibilities, particularly where naturalistic explanations utterly fail to explain certain phenomena, while supernatural explanations provide a very simple and parsimonious explanation for the origin of the universe generally and life in particular. Secondly, they claim that the evidence strongly supports such explanations, as instances of irreducible complexity and specified complexity make it highly unreasonable to believe that the full complexity and diversity of life came about solely through natural means, such that it would be much more reasonable to believe that life is the product of deliberate design. Finally, they hold that religious neutrality requires the teaching of both evolution and intelligent design in schools, because teaching only evolution unfairly discriminates against those holding the religious belief that God created life intact and unique, and that humans do not share common ancestry with the animals, while teaching both allows for a scientific basis for religious belief, without causing the state to actually promote a religious belief.

According to critics of ID, not only has ID failed to establish reasonable doubt in its proposed shortcomings of accepted scientific theories, but it has not even presented a case worth taking seriously. It has not established sufficient plausibility, nor has it presented credible scientific evidence. Critics of ID argue that ID has not presented a credible case for the public policy utility of presenting Intelligent Design in education, and more broadly that it has not met the minimum legal standard of not being a "clear" attempt to establish religion, which in the United States is forbidden by law.

However, between these two positions, there stands a large body of opinion that, while it does not condone the teaching of what it considers to be unscientific or questionable material, is generally sympathetic to the position of theism, and therefore desires some compromise between the two. Holders of this position, while generally willing to admit that Intelligent Design has not met burdens of proof required, should be given deference in public debate because of its relationship to freedom of conscience, and the free exercise of religious belief, even, or perhaps especially, where that belief seems to be in conflict with present scientific understanding. As with many issues, the nominal points of contention are seen by many as being proxies for other issues. For example Richard Dawkins, a very prominent spokesman for evolutionary theory, has argued that evolution disproves the existence of God. Many ID followers are quite open about their view that "Scientism" is a religion and that it promotes secularism and materialism in an attempt to erase religion from public life. This larger debate is often the subtext for arguments made over Intelligent Design.

Summary of arguments made by supporters of Intelligent Design

Arguments for intelligent design can be broadly split into four categories:

  • Assertions that the theories of naturalistic abiogenesis and macroevolution cannot fully account for the observed "irreducible complexity" and variety of organic life.
  • Arguments in support of a "design inference": just as it is reasonable to infer that an "irreducibly complex," functional, and interdependent machine was deliberately designed—a wristwatch, for example, implies a watchmaker—so, it is argued, it is reasonable to infer that far more complex "biological machines" that show similar characteristics were also designed.
  • Probability-based arguments that consider cosmological constants and other features of our universe that are "just right" for life, which conclude that a life-supporting universe is so exceedingly improbable that it cannot legitimately be explained by luck, and must instead be explained as a product of deliberate design. (See Fine-tuned universe)
  • Arguments against philosophical naturalism, the assumption in science (and in intellectual life more generally) that any meaningful explanation describes (and is based upon) an empirically accessible material reality. Materialism of this sort rules out explanations that depend on factors located outside of observable nature, including most concepts of an active creator God. ID proponents argue that a priori exclusion of supernatural possibilities amounts to an ideological prejudice that obstructs the genuine search for truth.

Summary of arguments made by critics of Intelligent Design

Principal criticisms of intelligent design (from agencies like the National Center for Science Education [1] ( ) include:

  • Claims that ID is simply not science. Unlike actual scientific theories, ID lacks a theoretical basis from which testable hypotheses can be derived, does not offer an explanatory framework for what it purports to be explaining (i.e. the orgin of species and their properties over the course of Earth history), and has no research program. Critics contend that ID consists almost exclusively of a critique against evolution, and that such a critique by itself does not qualify as a scientific theory.
  • Claims that specific criticisms of biological evolution offered by ID advocates are flawed and misleading. Opponents maintain that ID arguments, with few exceptions, are derived from earlier creationist arguments that have long since been refuted. ID proponents are said to rarely acknowledge or address the body of science that contradicts their claims.
  • Arguments against the sufficiency of natural causes, also known as "God of the gaps" arguments, are historically prone to failure. The history of science shows that gaps in our knowledge are continuously filled in. ID skeptics hold that it is unwarranted to assume that what evolution cannot currently explain must automatically make ID the preferred explanation.
  • The ID movement is accused of having a socio-political agenda that takes precedence over any scientific issues that may be at stake. The goals and tactics of the ID movement are seen as being essentially the same as the earlier creationist movement. Critics contend that ID is simply repackaged creationism intended to side-step prior court rulings and to avoid contentious issues (such as the age of the Earth) that have long divided religious evolution opponents.

Summary of other points of view

ID supporters view "Darwinism" as a world view that extends far beyond science into the realms of philosophy, religion, ethics, and even politics [1]. Hence, for ID proponents, the issue of Intelligent Design goes far beyond the scientific viability of ID arguments, and debates about Intelligent Design often shift quickly from a scientific to a philosophical context.

These broader debates become notable with regard to the public involvement of prominent theists and atheists, and the necessity of walking the line between unconstitutionally supporting religion by allowing the teaching of ID and unconstitutionally suppressing religion by teaching evolution as scientifically established fact. Public opinion polls as of January 2005 show that the majority of Americans believe that "God created humans in their current form" [2].

Within this context, not all critics of Intelligent Design regard it as a clear and present danger, for example William Saletan of Slate agrees that Intelligent Design is neo-creationism, and that it is "soft headed", but disputes the contention that it is any more than a last gasp of "educational relativism". [3]. And it is far from universally true that religiously conservative individuals are supporters of "Intelligent Design", for example in 1996 John Paul II stated that recent research had led the Catholic Church "toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis" and that it was not necessarily inconsistent with Catholic dogma. Nor are all supporters of evolution in the public realm willing to make the line against teaching Creationism in schools one that they are willing to defend with political capital: Albert Gore, while Vice President of the United States, stated that he did not oppose local school districts using federal funds to teach Creationism.

The principal arguments made by Intelligent Design supporters

Irreducible complexity

The term "irreducible complexity" was coined by biochemist Michael Behe in his 1996 book Darwin's Black Box. The irreducible complexity argument holds that evolutionary mechanisms cannot account for the emergence of some complex biochemical cellular systems. ID advocates argue that the systems must therefore have been deliberately engineered by some form of intelligence.

"Irreducible Complexity" is defined by Behe as "a single system which is composed of several well-matched interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning" (Behe, Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference). According to the theory of evolution, genetic variations occur without specific design or intent, and the environment selects variants that have the highest fitness, which are then passed on to the next generation of organisms; change occurs by the gradual operation of natural forces over time, perhaps slowly, perhaps more quickly (See punctuated equilibrium) and is able to create complex structures from simpler beginnings, or convert complex structures from one function to another (see spandrel). Most ID advocates accept that evolution through mutation and natural selection occurs, but assert that it cannot account for irreducible complexity, because none of the parts of an irreducible system would be functional or advantageous until the entire system is in place.

Behe uses the mousetrap as an illustrative example of this concept. A mousetrap consists of several interacting pieces—the base, the catch, the spring, the hammer—all of which must be in place for the mousetrap to work. The removal of any one piece destroys the function of the mousetrap. Likewise, biological systems require multiple parts working together in order to function. Natural selection could not create from scratch those systems for which it is impossible to find a viable evolutionary pathway of successive, slight modifications, because the selectable function is only present when all parts are assembled. Behe's original examples of irreducibly complex mechanisms included the bacterial flagellum of E. coli, the blood clotting cascade, cilia, and the adaptive immune system.

Specified complexity

The ID argument of specified complexity was developed by mathematician, philosopher, and theologian William Dembski. Dembski uses specified complexity to denote a property that makes living things unique. He claims that specified complexity is present when there exists a large amount of specified information. The following examples demonstrate the concept of specified information:.

  • High information, low specificity. For example, the 10-letter structure "dkownl el." According to Shannon’s theory of information, a random string of letters contains the highest possible information content, because it cannot be compressed into a smaller string. However, the random nature makes the string without meaning, and thus non-specified according to Dembski. (Note that “meaning” does not play a role in Shannon's information theory.)
  • High specificity, low information. For example, the 10-letter structure "aaaaaaaaaa." The sequence has low information because it can be compressed into a smaller string, namely “10 a’s” . However, because it conforms to a pattern it is highly specified.
  • Specified information. For example, the 10-letter structure "I love you". This has both high information content, because it cannot be compressed, and specificity, because it conforms to a pattern (grammar and syntax). In this case, the pattern it conforms to is that of a meaningful English phrase, one of a selection of strings which together make up a small fraction of all possible arrangements. In living things, the “pattern” that molecular sequences conform to is that of a functional biological molecule, which make up only a small fraction of all possible molecules.

Dembski defines complex specified information (CSI) as something containing a large amount of specified information, which has a low probability of occurring by chance. He defines this probability as 1 in 10150, which he calls the universal probability bound. Anything below this bound has CSI. The terms "specified complexity" and "complex specified information" are used interchangeably.

Dembski and other proponents of ID assert that specified complexity cannot come about by natural means, and is therefore a reliable indicator of design.

The improbability of a life-supporting universe

ID proponents use the argument that we live in a "finely-tuned universe." They propose that the natural emergence of a universe with all the features necessary for life is wildly improbable. Thus, an intelligent designer of life was needed to ensure that the requisite features were present to achieve that particular outcome. Opinion within the scientific community is still divided on the "finely-tuned universe" issue, but this particular explanation and assessment of probabilities is rejected by most scientists and statisticians--see Fine-tuned universe for a more detailed discussion.

Within mainstream physics this is related to the question of the Anthropic principle, whose weak form is based on the observation that the laws of physics must allow for life, since we observe there is life. The strong form, however, is the assertion that the laws of the physics must have made it possible for life to arise. The strong form is a distinctly minority position and is highly controversial. (See Anthropic principle, Cosmology).

Criticisms of ID Arguments and Actions

ID and scientific peer review

George W. Gilchrist of the University of Washington looked through thousands of scientific journals in the mid-1990s, searching for any articles on intelligent design or creation science—he found none. More recent surveys have also failed to find articles on these subjects in the primary scientific literature. By contrast, many articles have been published in peer reviewed science journals that specifically deny the claims of ID (for example, Lenski et al. 2003 The evolutionary origin of complex features. Nature 423:139-44.)

One of the scientific community's justifications for its vociferous opposition to ID, is the perception that ID proponents are attempting to "end run" the scientific process by either not submitting to peer reviewed journals, or by setting up "peer review" that consists entirely of ID supporters.

One of ID's explanations for its absence from peer-reviewed literature is that papers explaining the findings and concepts in support of ID are consistently excluded from the mainstream scientific discourse by definition, because ID arguments challenge the principles of Philosophical naturalism and uniformitarianism that are accepted as fundamental by the mainstream scientific community. Thus, they claim, research that points toward an intelligent designer is often rejected simply because it deviates from these dogmatically held beliefs, without regard to the merits of their specific claims. According to their critics, this is an ad hominem attack, designed to cover over the lack of success in creating scientifically testable or verifiable data or theory, by claiming that there is a conspiracy of "naturalists" against them.

To date, the intelligent design movement has only succeeded at publishing one article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, and that journal subsequently disowned the paper. The author is Stephen C. Meyer, Program Director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, the major organization promoting ID. The journal issued a public statement explaining that the Meyer paper did not go through the journal's approved peer review process and does not meet the scientific standards of the journal, an assertion which has been denied by Richard Sternberg , who was managing editor at that time.

This article is not available on-line from this journal, but a copy is on the Discovery Institute site: *The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories

A critical review of it is available on the Panda's Thumb website [4].

The vast majority of practicing biologists oppose Intelligent Design—a recent letter called teaching "Intelligent Design" "profoundly misguided". The Scientific community does not regard the argument over ID to be of the same kind as, for example, differing theories on how particular traits evolved, or even in the realm of scientific speculation, the way, for example, a hypothesis of exogenesis might be considered as a plausible scientific speculation. The failure to follow the procedures of scientific discourse, and the failure to submit work to the scientific community which withstands even cursory scrutiny is regarded by the critics of intelligent design as a strong argument against Intelligent Design being considered as "science" at all.

Reactions such as this one from more than 250 science and science educators in Missouri are common: ID is "non-science" and that it fails to meet not only academic notions of science, but legal notions as outlined in McLean v Arkansas Board of Education.

Several scientific professional organizations and publications have explictly condemned "intelligent design":

"Creationism has no rightful place in science lessons. ... To teach creationism as part of a science curriculum is absurd, simply because there is no credible scientific evidence for it. By contrast, many thousands of papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals support the theory of evolution.
Intellectual laziness is the most charitable explanation for not accepting the evidence for evolution. The idea that a benevolent deity oversaw the making of the universe is easy, whereas scientific explanations can be difficult to understand -- even the vocabulary may be unfamiliar. However, the evidence for how the solar system developed from a mass of gasses, how animals evolved from single cells to the complex species of today, and how even now species change in response to environmental pressures is far more compelling than the idea that the world was made by a deity in a week."

Anyone reading this online Encyclopedia can just as easily conduct an online scientific literature search to read about the relative scientific merits of evolution and creationism:

  • Searching the scientific database PubMed for "evolution" yields 154296 scientific articles (over one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand, search conducted on March 11, 2005).
    • Searching for "creationism" yields 46 articles, all about the politically/religiously inspired movement to undermine science education by teaching creationism.
    • Searching for "intelligent design" yields 15 articles, all about the political disinformation campaign to mislead the public about the facts of evolution.
  • Searching the scientific database sciencedirect yields 84287 articles on "evolution", 22 articles on "creationism", and 1 article on "intelligent design" -- a fact which critics of ID interpret to mean that ID is a political movement to teach its beliefs which, it is alleged, lack supporting scientific evidence.

Criticism of Irreducible Complexity

Critics of ID point out that the IC argument only makes sense if one assumes that the present function of a system must have been the one that it was selected for. But the concept of cooption , in which existing features become adapted for new functions, has long been a mainstay of biology. Many purported IC structures have functional subsystems that are used elsewhere. ID advocates have often reacted to this by trying to define an "IC core", or by changing the number of parts required for an IC system. Critics have claimed that these instances of "moving the goal posts" show that IC is not a clear concept that can be objectively applied. While Behe has considered cooption, he rejects it as unlikely, which critics contend is an unwarranted dismissal.

The IC argument also assumes that the necessary parts of a system have always been necessary, and therefore could not have been added sequentially. But something which is at first merely advantageous can later become necessary. For example, one of the clotting factors that Behe listed as a part of the IC clotting cascade was later found to be absent in whales[5], demonstrating that it isn't essential for a clotting system. Many purported IC structures can be found in other organisms as simpler systems that utilize fewer parts. These systems may have had even simpler precursors that are now extinct.

Perhaps most importantly, evolutionary pathways have been elucidated for IC systems such as blood clotting, the immune system[6] and the flagellum[7]. If IC is an insurmountable obstacle to evolution, it should not be possible to conceive of such pathways -- Behe has remarked that any such plausible pathways would defeat his argument. Computer simulations of evolution also demonstrate that IC can evolve. [8][9]

ID advocates respond by saying that proposed models for the evolution of IC structures are not detailed enough, or cannot be tested. They also dismiss computer simulations as biologically unrealistic.

Criticism of Specified Complexity

The conceptual soundness of Dembski's SC/CSI argument is strongly disputed by critics of ID. First, specified complexity, as originally defined by Leslie Orgel, is precisely what Darwinian evolution is proposed to create. It is not enough for Dembski to take a property of living things and arbitrarily declare it to be a reliable indicator of design; he must also provide compelling reasons why no natural processes could create such a property. According to critics of ID, by taking this burden of proof on himself, that is, to prove a negative, he must show not merely that there is no explanation currently accepted, but that no such explanation is possible within the framework of genetics and natural selection.

Additionally, Dembski confuses the issue by using "complex" as most people would use "improbable". He defines CSI as anything with a less than 1 in 10150 chance of occurring naturally. But this renders the argument a tautology. CSI cannot occur naturally because Dembski has defined it thus, so the real question becomes whether or not CSI actually exists in nature. To demonstrate this, Dembski would need to show that a biological feature really did have an extremely low probability of occurring naturally by any means, an enormously difficult (perhaps impossible) task that would require definitively ruling out all potential theories, including those that may not have been thought of yet. In general, Dembski does not attempt to do this, but instead simply takes the existence of CSI as a given, and then proceeds to argue that it is a reliable indicator of design. Among the many criticisms of this approach is the problem of "arbitrary but specific outcomes". For example, it is unlikely that any given person will win a lottery, but, eventually, a lottery will have a winner. To argue that it is very unlikely that any one player would win is not the same as proving that there is the same chance that no one will win. Scientists also point out that this is "argument from ignorance", namely the fallacy that because we do not know how something occurred, it must be the sign of intelligence. In scientific terms, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" for naturalistic explanations of observed traits of living organisms.

Further, mathematicians have pointed out that Dembski's information theory is flawed, that many of his examples that he claims cannot be compressed further, in fact can be. For example the phrase "I love you" can be written "luv u" or even with a "heart" symbol, reducing 10 bytes down to 2. The genome similarly has redundancy and reliability built in, which makes its information content much lower than the number of base pairs used. In addition, the space sampled by an evolutionary process is a restricted set of the total possible genetic combinations. Only genetic sequences which result in reproducing organisms and are connectible through small deviations to other reproducing organisms are possible. This is a significantly smaller set than the total possible genetic combinations, which places significant inaccuracies in arguments which use the total possible combinations.

Criticism of the improbability of a life-supporting universe

ID proponents assert that we live in a "finely-tuned universe." They hold that the natural emergence of a universe with all the features necessary for life is wildly improbable. Thus, an intelligent designer of life was needed to ensure that the requisite features were present to achieve that particular outcome. This argument is a variation of the strong anthropic principle.

Critics of both ID and the weak form of anthropic principle argue that they are essentially a tautology; life as we know it may not exist if things were different, but a different sort of life might exist in its place. The claim of the improbability of a life-supporting universe has also been criticized as an argument by lack of imagination for assuming no other forms of life are possible (see also carbon chauvinism).

The shorthand criticism of this position is that all it says is 'if things were different, things would be different', which clearly is tautological.

Stephen Hawking and James Hartle have shown that from the initial conditions of the universe, that is, the moment immediately after the Big Bang, a large number of types of universe could have formed. The type of universe that we live in is called a Hartle-Hawking type universe. According to their calculations, the chance that a Hartle-Hawking universe forms is over 90%. Thus, the chance that our particular universe formed may be small, but the chance that a universe of the same type, with stars, planets and the other elements required to create life as we know it would come out of the Big Bang is over 90%, not improbable at all.

Intelligent Design as "Stealth Creationism"

As outlined in the section on the legal arguments over ID, previously the doctrine of Creationism was rejected as suitable for teaching in science classes in public schools in the United States. According to opponents of ID, the Discovery Institute and its allied organizations are merely stripping the obvious religious content from their anti-evolution assertions as a means of avoiding the legal restriction on establishment. They argue that ID is simply an attempt to put a patina of secularity on top of what is a fundamentally religious belief, one that is driven largely by the unwillingness of many people to accept that the world evolves by understandable, verifiable and describable means.

The basis for this argument rests, first, on the nature of many ID arguments being updated versions of old teleological attacks on evolution, including the "watch requires a watchmaker", "lack of intermediate steps" and "improbability" arguments. According to critics of ID, all of these arguments really rest on a fundamental disbelief in evolution, which rests, in turn on an unstated belief in something else. Second, it rests on the behavior of ID advocates in many of their subsidiary comments, namely the implication that the Intelligent Designer is a supernatural one. Finally, they note that ID advocates routinely reference previous attempts to assert creationism as a public dogma in the past, including the Scopes trial in the 1920's.

What Intelligent Design is not

Intelligent Design is not and do not claim to be an alternative theory replacing mutations, gene flow, genetic drift, natural selection, or speciation. All of these have been observed in laboratories and in the field; they are not theories but facts. This is sometimes forgotten by ID supporters.

Summary of criticisms

These critiques of ID are meant to assert that ID fails to meet the legal criterion for science, fails to meet the legal criterion for not having a clear religious motivation in its establishment, and fails to meet the test of good faith. If ID is merely an attempt to avoid standing legal objections, without alteration of actual substance, these critics argue, it should be dismissed as a settled issue.

Political Issues

Dover Pennsylvania Case

In 2004, Dover Pennsylvania passed a law requiring the teaching of Intelligent Design. While a case was filed which contends that Intelligent Design is creationism, an issue which was ruled on previously by the High Court. Dover Pennsylvania contends that Intelligent Design is not creationism, and its being taught does not have a "clear intent" to establish religion, the standard established in Edwards v. Aguillard, for determining whether a requirement to teach particular material is an unconstitutional violation of the First amendment and Fourteenth amendment.

Aguillard rests on Lemon v. Kurtzman 403 U.S. 602, a three pronged test: a law must have secular purpose, the statute's principal effect must neither advance nor hinder religion, and the statute must not create "excessive" involvement in religion. If any of these prongs are violated, then state action has violated the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.

The plaintiffs contend that Intelligent Design meets this standard, that the content of the law is a distinction without a difference, and that the intent is similar to Selman et al. v. Cobb County School District et al. [10] where stickers were placed on text books stating that evolution was a theory and not a fact. They argue that the court must be, in the words of Justice Brennan, "particularly vigilant", meaning that it has a lower threshold for action in that sphere. They point to Lynch v. Donnelly which is referenced in Aguillard as saying: "whether government's actual purpose is to endorse or disapprove of religion", and argue that the evidence shows this. Thus the plaintiff's argument rests on a legal assertion, that the law is a question of establishment, and a factual one, that it can be ascertained that the intent of the school board was to promote religion.

Dover Pennsylvania, for its part, contends that the law is secular in purpose, that Intelligent Design is not a religious belief, and does not violate the first prong of the Lemon v. Kurtzman standard. The application of the law was also voluntary for both teachers and students, an attempt to weaken any legal argument on entanglement in religion: namely, since the school allows, but does not mandate, teaching of particular subjects.

A hearing in Federal District Court is scheduled for next September.

(See also Creation and evolution in public education)

The Center for Science and Culture and the "Wedge" strategy

Main Article: Center for Science and Culture

The intelligent design movement is centered around the Center for Science and Culture (CSC), formerly known as the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture, which was founded in 1996. The CSC is affiliated with the conservative Christian thinktank, the Discovery Institute, and is funded at US$1.5 per year by Howard Ahmanson Jr., amongst others. Mr. Ahmanson funds many causes important the religious right, including Christian Reconstructionism, whose goal is to place the U.S. "under the control of biblical law" (sources: Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, Oxford University Press, 2004, and "Avenging angel of the religious right" in Salon Magazine). The Discovery Institute describes itself has being motivated by the goal of replacing the existing materialistic understanding of the universe and its origins with a Christian explanation: "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" (source The Discovery Institute: The "Wedge Document": "So What?").

In 2000, Phillip Johnson published a book entitled, "The Wedge of Truth," in which he argued, "At the heart of the problem of scientific authority is the fact that there are two distinct definitions of science in our culture. On the one hand, science is devoted to unbiased empirical investigation. According to this definition, scientists should follow the empirical evidence wherever it leads--even if it leads to recognition of the presence of intelligent causes in biology. According to the other definition, science is devoted to providing explanations for all phenomena that employ only natural or material causes. According to the second definition, scientists must ignore evidence pointing to the presence of intelligent causes in biology, and must affirm the sufficiency of natural (unintelligent) causes regardless of the evidence." The crux of his argument is that the philosophical school of naturalism is dominant in our society not on its merits, but due to the ideology and paradigm prevalent in today's scientific community. He notes that many prominent evolutionists such as Dawkins have used the theory of evolution to argue that science had disproved the existence of God, a gross abuse of scientific authority to promote his ideological views. He argued that Intelligent Design is the clear and obvious evidence that philosophical naturalism is faulty and that a fully and vibrant science must allow for supernatural and intelligent causes for the universe and life. He argued that the "wedge" of Intelligent Design would expose the inherent weaknesses of philosophical naturalism, and allow for a broader, more comprehensive view of origins consistent with theistic thought.

This "wedge" was first described in an internal memo now known as the Wedge Document, which was inadvertently leaked to the public. The Wedge Document describes the goals of the ID movement; it outlines the movement's goal to exploit perceived discrepancies within evolutionary theory in order to discredit evolution and scientific materialism in general. Much of the strategy is directed toward the broader public, as opposed to the professional scientific community. The stated "governing goals" of the CSC's wedge strategy are "1. To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies" and "2. To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God." Critics of ID argue that the wedge strategy demonstrates that the ID movement is motivated by religion and political ideology.

Theological Debate

Materialism Versus Spirituality

Intelligent Designs most vociferous supporters and critics sometimes portray the debate as between science and faith, and by implication that Intelligent Design speaks for everyone who believes in a higher power, or higher powers. However, this is not the point of view of many others. Theology, assuming such a power, draws implications about that power from the observed world which that power is said to have created. In the view of theologians, Intelligent Design then, implies a certain nature of its designer. This leads to the question as to whether Intelligent design is "good theology" as well as the question as to whether it is "good science". While the Discovery Institute is very careful to phrase its arguments in secular terms, not all ID supporters are so carefully neutral. Focus on the Family, which has funded a pro-ID documentary, argues that "Secularists have dismissed Christianity as an acceptable intellectual option." [11] and argues that "Intelligent Design" promotes their views on Christianity.

However, Pope John Paul II issued the following statement [12] in an address entitled "Truth cannot contradict Truth":

" The moment of transition to the spiritual cannot be the object of this kind of observation, which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again of aesthetic and religious experience, falls within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection, while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator's plans."

And argues that the role of spiritual value is defined by philosophy and theology, not by science. In the message, John Paul II references possible theories of evolution, which leaves the door open to divinely guided evolution, but within the context of " theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person."

This position then is potentially compatible only with those forms of Intelligent Design which presume spirituality, and which presume teleological intent to produce Man from the intervention, since "Man is the only creature for which God cares of himself". But is incompatible with Intelligent Design that is absent these qualities, and with any form of pure materialism.

Hypotheses about the intelligent designer

Although the Intelligent Design movement is often portrayed as a variant of Bible-based Creationism, many ID arguments are formulated in secular terms. Most ID arguments do not depend on Biblical fundamentalism. They do not explicitly state that their adherents accept the Bible’s accounts, but they do explicitly state that some Creator must exist. This creator is commonly believed to be God.

The key arguments in favor of the different variants of ID are so broad that they can be adopted by any number of communities that seek an alternative to evolutionary thought, including those that support non-theistic models of creation although the designers might be different. For example, the notion of an “intelligent designer” is compatible with the materialistic hypotheses that life on Earth was introduced by an alien species, or that it emerged as a result of panspermia, but would not be with the designer(s) of the "fine-tuned" universe.

Likewise, ID claims can support a variety of theistic notions. Some proponents of creationism and intelligent design reject the Christian concept of omnipotence and omniscience on the part of God, and subscribe to Open Theism or Process theology. It has been suggested by some opponents that ID researchers who believe that an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God is the designer may face an additional burden of proof beyond the standard claims of the ID movement, by having to additionally demonstrate that the designs themselves are flawless and anticipate all eventualities. Existing evidence poses many difficult challenges for the advocates of omniscient, omnipotent design, for example:

  • the poor ability of the human body to repair spinal cord injuries
  • the inability of the human body to grow replacement limbs
  • the failure to anticipate the demands of a plentiful, sedentary lifestyle leaving the human body vulnerable to chronic diseases such as type II diabetes and atherosclerosis
  • using the same genetic code for various species making it dangerously easy to transmit viruses across species' barriers
  • the requirement of a lower temperature for mammalian spermatogenes that results in the carrying of the testicles externally in a more vulnerable position
  • brain-imaging researchers find that 2−8% of ostensibly "normal" research subjects have "clinically significant" findings, such as tumors, malformations or serious disease (J. Illes et al. J. Magn. Reson. Imag. 20, 743−747; 2004).

Some of these ID researchers would instead argue that this is fallacious in that, when compared to that of an all-knowing God, our own knowledge is insignificant, so features that may appear flawed to us, are actually perfect to God; or that benevolence does not imply the need for physical perfection in Creation.

See also

Further reading


  • Michael J. Behe. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, New York: Free Press, 1996. ISBN 0684834936. Argues that several exquisite biochemical mechanisms could not have arisen by a sequence of random mutations and selection.
  • Michael J. Behe, William A. Dembski, Stephen C. Meyer. Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe (Proceedings of the Wethersfield Institute), Ignatius Press 2000, ISBN 0898708095
  • William A. Dembski. Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, InterVarsity Press 1999. ISBN 0830815813
  • William A. Dembski, James M. Kushiner. Signs of Intelligence: Understanding Intelligent Design, Brazos Press, 2001, ISBN 1587430045
  • William A. Dembski, John Wilson. Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing, ISI Press, 2004. ISBN 1932236317
  • William A. Dembski, Charles W. Colson. The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design. Inter Varsity Press. 2004, ISBN 0830823751. This Charles W. Colson is the born-again Watergate convict.
  • Phillip E. Johnson. Darwin on Trial, Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1991.
  • Phillip E. Johnson. Defeating Darwinism by opening minds, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1997.
  • Phillip E. Johnson. Evolution as dogma: the establishment of naturalism, Dallas, Tex.: Haughton Pub. Co., 1990
  • William Paley. Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity , London: 12th edition, 1809. Online in full.
  • Geoffrey Simmons, William Dembski. What Darwin Didn't Know, Harvest House Publishers, 2004, ISBN 0736913130
  • Thomas Woodward. Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design, Baker Books, 1993, ISBN 0801064430
  • Dean L. Overman, A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1997, ISBN 0847689662
  • Lee Strobel: The Case for a Creator, Zondervan (2004)


  • Was Darwin Wrong? (No. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming.), National Geographic Magazine, November 2004.
  • "Survival of the Slickest: How anti-evolutionists are mutating their message", American Prospect magazine, by Chris Mooney, December 2002.
  • "Research and Destroy", Washington Monthly magazine, by Chris Mooney, October 2004.
  • "The Crusade Against Evolution", Wired magazine, October 2004.
  • Barbara Carroll Forrest, Paul R. Gross: Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (2003) ISBN 0195157427 History of ID and critique.
  • Matt Young, Taner Edis eds.: Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism, Rutgers University Press (2004). ISBN 081353433X Anthology by scientists.
  • Robert Pennock ed.: Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives, MIT Press (2002). ISBN 0262661241 Comprehensive anthology including IDT advocates.
  • Robert Pennock: Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism, MIT Press (1999). ISBN 0262661659 Early critique of IDT - compare to similar more recent.
  • Niall Shanks: God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory, Oxford University Press (2004). ISBN 0195161998 Philosopher/biologist concludes the ID movement threatens scientific and democratic values inherited from the Enlightenment.
  • Mark Perakh: Unintelligent Design, Prometheus (Dec 2003). ISBN 1591020840 Distinguished physicist, the mathematical claims of IDT.
  • Kenneth R. Miller: Finding Darwin's God, HarperCollins (1999). ISBN 0060930497 A cell biologist and devout Christian critiques Intelligent Design Theory and advocates theistic evolution.
  • National Academy of Sciences: Science and Creationism, National Academies Press (1999). ISBN 0309064066 The collective scientific mainstream speaks on anti-evolution.
  • Ernst Mayr: One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought, Harvard University Press (1993). ISBN 0674639065 Explanation of and tiny fraction of evidence behind mainstream evolutionary theory.

External links



Young-Earth creationist comment on ID


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