Science & Faith
2/6/13 at 10:17 PM 0 Comments

Six Most Frequently Asked Questions about Intelligent Design

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My last post The Future of Intelligent Design: Attention Students sparked many comments, some of which are addressed here.

1. What is the theory of intelligent design?

The theory of intelligent design 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.

2. Is intelligent design theory incompatible with evolution?

It depends on what one means by the word "evolution." If one simply means "change over time," or even that living things are related by common ancestry, then there is no inherent conflict between evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory. However, the dominant theory of evolution today is neo-Darwinism, which contends that evolution is driven by natural selection acting on random mutations, an unpredictable and purposeless process that "has no discernable direction or goal, including survival of a species." (NABT Statement on Teaching Evolution). It is this specific claim made by neo-Darwinism that intelligent design theory directly challenges.

3. Is intelligent design based on the Bible?

No. The idea that human beings can observe signs of intelligent design in nature reaches back to the foundations of both science and civilization. In the Greco-Roman tradition, Plato and Cicero both espoused early versions of intelligent design. In the history of science, most scientists until the latter part of the nineteenth century accepted some form of intelligent design, including Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer with Charles Darwin of the theory of evolution by natural selection. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, meanwhile, the idea that design can be discerned in nature can be found not only in the Bible but among Jewish philosophers such as Philo and in the writings of the Early Church Fathers. The scientific community largely rejected design in the early twentieth century after neo-Darwinism claimed to be able to explain the emergence of biological complexity through the unintelligent process of natural selection acting on random mutations. In recent decades, however, new research and discoveries in such fields as physics, cosmology, biochemistry, genetics, and paleontology have caused a growing number of scientists and science theorists to question neo-Darwinism and propose intelligent design as the best explanation for the existence of specified complexity throughout the natural world.

4. Is intelligent design theory the same as creationism?

No. Intelligent design theory is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the "apparent design" in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations. Creationism is focused on defending a literal reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the Biblical God a few thousand years ago. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text. Honest critics of intelligent design acknowledge the difference between intelligent design and creationism. University of Wisconsin historian of science Ronald Numbers is critical of intelligent design, yet according to the Associated Press, he "agrees the creationist label is inaccurate when it comes to the ID [intelligent design] movement." Why, then, do some Darwinists keep trying to conflate intelligent design with creationism? According to Dr. Numbers, it is because they think such claims are "the easiest way to discredit intelligent design." In other words, the charge that intelligent design is "creationism" is a rhetorical strategy on the part of Darwinists who wish to delegitimize design theory without actually addressing the merits of its case.

5. Are there established scholars in the scientific community who support intelligent design theory?

Yes. Intelligent design theory is supported by doctoral scientists, researchers and theorists at a number of universities, colleges, and research institutes around the world. These scholars include biochemist Michael Behe at Lehigh University, microbiologist Scott Minnich at the University of Idaho, biologist Paul Chien at the University of San Francisco, emeritus biologist Dean Kenyon at San Francisco State University, mathematician William Dembski, and quantum chemist Henry Schaefer at the University of Georgia.

6. Is research about intelligent design published in peer-reviewed journals and monographs?

Yes. Although open hostility from those who hold to neo-Darwinism sometimes makes it difficult for design scholars to gain a fair hearing for their ideas, research and articles supporting intelligent design are being published in peer-reviewed publications. Examples of peer-reviewed books supporting design include The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press) by William Dembski, Darwin's Black Box (The Free Press) by Michael Behe, Darwinism, Design and Public Education by Stephen C. Meyer & John Angus Campbell (Michigan State University Press) and Debating Design (Cambridge University Press) by Center Fellow William A. Dembski and ID critic Michael Ruse. In the area of journals, Michael Behe has defended his concept of "irreducible complexity" in the peer-reviewed journal Philosophy of Science published by the University of Chicago. There is also now a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on design theory, Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design, which has an editorial advisory board of more than 50 scholars from relevant scientific disciplines, most of whom have university affiliations. Finally, the works of design theorists are starting to be cited by other scholars in peer-reviewed journals such as the Annual Review of Genetics. For more information go to our annotated list of "Peer-Reviewed and Peer-Edited Scientific Publications Supporting ID."

For an expanded version of these six questions/answers with associated weblinks (including links to video clips), go here and scroll down one screen to find the section called "Questions about Intelligent Design."

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