Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design is the claim that certain phenomena in the natural world provide evidence for, and are not otherwise explainable except by, their having been designed by some intelligence (an intelligence conceivably either natural or supernatural). It is considered by some to be a pseudo-scientific cover for what they see as fully-debunked CREATIONISM, and by others to be a genuinely testable and verifiable scientific hypothesis.

For example, proponents of ID put forth the eye and the bacterial flagellum as having the characteristic of irreducible complexity. They argue that it is implausible, if not impossible, for these things to have evolved gradually over time. Evolutionary biologists, on the other hand, claim to have provided abundant, verifiable, and testable explanations for such structures (such as evidence for intermediate structures) which debunk the idea that they could not have evolved without the guiding hand of some intelligence. After all, evolutionists ask, by what scientific principle can one determine when something is irreducibly complex? At what point, in other words, does one simply stop seeking naturalistic explanations for complex systems, and say, “God did it”? 

Fuzzy areas in this debate revolve around the definitions of the words “intelligence,” “natural,” “supernatural,” and “design.” Many evolutionists point out that they think life forms are indeed designed, but designed blindly - not consciously or intentionally - by natural selection. Advocates of ID see in this position an irrational insistence on excluding any possibility of there being any kind of higher-order intelligence within (or outside) the universe which might more elegantly explain certain observable phenomena. Indeed, the human consciousness of the evolutionists themselves might be one such phenomenon. 

Another point of contention centers on what we mean when we say that something is “scientific” or “supported by scientific evidence.”

For the more staunchly atheistic evolutionists, the belief that a supernaturalcreator designed the forms of life we see around us (for the most part as they are today) is seen as a superstition devoid of any legitimate scientific basis. This makes such a belief simply unworthy of attention in a society that relies on the many benefits we have gained from science and the scientific method

However, those who favor Intelligent Design see abundant evidence supporting it, and are frustrated to see such legitimate (in their view) scientific evidence ignored.

A third position is taken by many agnostics and religious people (both conservative and liberal): that the supernatural, while possibly existing and impinging upon the world, is unavoidably outside the purview of science. In this view, whether a possible phenomenon like irreducible complexity is “supported by scientific evidence” is beside the point, because the phenomenon has been described as supernatural in origin. This places it outside science, which cannot - must not - theorize about a supernatural entity unconstrained by natural laws.

Yet another view can be found in some religious traditions, such as those of Hindus and Mormons, that do not distinguish between what is natural and what is divine. As one Mormon put it:  “there are no such things as fundamentally different ‘spiritual’ and ‘material’ realities.” In this view, the idea of Intelligent Design is not necessarily antithetical to the scientific method precisely because the intelligence which may be at work in evolution is part of the “spiritual matter” of natural existence itself. Thus, in theory at least, this intelligence is subject to the scientific method, which involves observation, hypothesis, and verification. Whether Intelligent Design provides adequate scientific evidence to support such a hypothesis is an altogether different question.


  • What if you found out that your convictions on this issue were wrong? How would that change how you see the world?

  • People often interpret evidence in line with their deeply held values and beliefs. Do you see that happening in your own reading on the question?

  • How open are you to evidence that contradicts your convictions on the topic? Why is that? If you met someone who was as open (or closed) as you are on this point, what would you say to convey to them how you feel?

  • What do the words “science” and “scientific” mean to you?

  • What do the words “natural” and “supernatural” mean to you?

Conversation Catalysts: 

Psyche’s Palace (a book about Darwinian evolution and the Light of the Soul)



Arthur M. Peña, Cynthia Kurtz, Jacob Hess

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