Do you ever wonder how we came into existence? Does the sheer complexity and diversity of the natural world amaze you? Do you think something intelligent created us? If yes, then you might find your calling in the theory of Intelligent Design (ID). So, what is intelligent design?
Intelligent design is an alternate attempt to explain the origin of the universe and all its living and nonliving diversities through the creative power of intelligent agents.
Although the intelligent design proponents claim this to be a scientific theory, the mainstream scientific community thinks otherwise. The scientists discard it as a pseudoscientific attempt to replace the theory of evolution. Let us look deeper and embark upon the journey of exploring our origins. After all, we all want to know where we all come from.
1. Intelligent Design in Simple Terms
1.1. What is Intelligent Design?
Intelligent Design is a theory that attempts to give an alternate explanation of the existence of the universe and its contents. The Intelligent Design proponents claim that this is a scientific theory.
The theory first requires observing complex natural systems to find evidence of intelligent designs. Then, the Intelligent Design theorists compare these intelligent designs with other complex entities in nature. Through these observations, the theory attempts to explain the intelligent cause behind the complexity of the natural world.
According to the proponents, these complexities cannot result from undirected processes like natural selection and evolution. Therefore, they argue that complexities in the natural world can only be explained through intelligent cause.
1.2. Scientists’ Opinion on What is Intelligent Design
Is Intelligent Design a science or an agenda to promote divine intervention in disguise? Intelligent design proponents strongly oppose any connection with creationism. Further, they deny having any religious motivations. According to them, the intelligent design theory is like any other scientific theory. The ID theorists insist on using scientifically tested empirical observations to detect design in the natural world.
Intelligent Design proponents claim to find overwhelming evidence of intelligent cause in the natural world. Take, for example, the features of the living cells. It is full of complex molecular machines that are structurally and functionally compounded and unique, like the bacterial flagellum.
The flagellum consists of a rotary, engine-like component that aids in bacterial locomotion. The ID proponents assert that such complex and coordinated building blocks of all of life are unquestionable examples of purposeful arrangement.
2. Intelligent Design: How the Concept Originated
The Intelligent Design theory originated from Creationism. Here we will explore the meandering evolution of the Intelligent Design movement, their ideas, and the “big tent” approach. Over the years, the movement gave rise to many groups that spearheaded independent yet coordinated efforts.
2.1. Creationism as the Source of Intelligent Design
2.1.1. What is Creationism?
Creationism proposes a faith-based explanation for the existence of living beings and the universe. They suggest that living things and nature as a whole are a direct result of divine intervention. Consequently, this group identifies with the narrative of the Bible’s Genesis.
2.1.2. Not all Creations are Equal
Creationists have different opinions on how to explain creationism. Creationists have different opinions on how to explain creationism. The modern creationists adhere to the Young Earth view that the earth is a mere 10,000 years old. Further, its offshoot called the ‘creation science’ offers pseudoscientific explanations to prove their creationist claims. Needless to say, the creationists interpret the Bible’s genesis word-for-word.
Surprisingly enough, after the Renaissance the ‘traditional creationists’ accepted modern scientific geological time scale. However, both the modern and traditional creationists reject the existence of an intelligent agent other than the Christian god. Clearly, both groups reject the evolutionary theory as well.
Surprisingly, the liberal creationists, namely the mainstream Protestant and Catholic Churches accept evolutionary theory. They agree with the scientists on evolution being the reason for the complexity of living organisms and natural processes. The group reconciles the contrasting views of creationism and the theory of evolution through ‘theistic evolution’.
Interestingly enough, many proponents of theistic evolution reject Intelligent Design theory. Renowned scientists and professors, like Kenneth Miller, John Haught, Francisco Ayala, and Francis Collins are among these.
2.2. Intelligent Design Branches off
Although Intelligent Design stems from Creationism, it soon splits off from this group. This happened after a series of court rulings that stopped teaching creationism in public schools. They faced repeated charges of promoting religious views under the pretext of teaching Intelligent Design.
Over the next couple of years, the group began to continually reshape the definition of intelligent design. Further, they clipped all references to Genesis or other religious terms.
2.2.1. Intelligent Design vs. Evolutionary Theory
During the 1920s, an intellectual battle arose as a new player entered the debate. It was the evolutionary biologists who opposed the idea of divine creation. Soon, the creationists and the emerging evolutionary biologists were at loggerheads. This gave rise to the prolonged fundamentalist-modernist controversy.
Apparently, in this battle of ideas, the fundamentalists had the upper hand. They made sure that the new theory of evolution was quickly nipped in the bud. The school boards stopped teaching evolution and natural selection in US public schools. This trend continued into the 1960s.
Next, in many turn of events, especially through a series of court cases since the 1960s the course turned in favor of the evolutionary biologists. The most notable ones were Epperson vs. Arkansas in 1968, the first of its kind, followed and Hendren vs. Campbell (1977).
Based on the First Amendment to the US Constitution, the courts ruled that removing evolutionary theory from schools is unconstitutional. Furthermore, the verdicts stopped public schools from teaching content that promotes religious bias. These textbooks were deemed unconstitutional. For example, textbooks on creation science such as Biology: A Search For Order In Complexity were removed from the curricula.
Despite major setbacks, the ID theorists had a few minor victories. For example, Louisiana’s “Creationism Act” in 1981 ruled a “balanced treatment” for teaching Intelligent Design in schools. The state could teach the theory of evolution only if the curricula also have intelligent design.
2.2.2. Formation of Intelligent Design Movement
Amidst the courtroom setbacks, creationists scrambled to rediscover themselves. They devised a series of executable strategies.
Firstly, the ID theorists started building scientific evidence against the undirected processes of evolution and natural selection. This resulted in the publication of The Mystery of Life’s Origin in 1984. Secondly, the ID proponents wrote many textbooks for high-school biology classes.
Furthermore, to continually improvise the theory the ID-affiliated group (FTE) revised many of these key textbooks. These textbooks offered a comparative study of so-called scientific evidence for creationism vs. the theory of evolution.
Books such as Of Pandas and People: The Central Questions of Biological Origins indeed raised many eyebrows in the scientific community. More publications from the ID proponents followed, notably Michael Denton’s book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.
Hence, these events traditionally mark the beginning of the Intelligent Design movement.
2.2.3. Federal Court Rulings against Creation Science Education
Soon enough, the ID theorists again entered a massive court case in 1987. This time it was the Edwards vs. Aguillard case in the Supreme Court of the US which challenged Louisiana’s “Creationism Act” (1981).
This time, 72 Nobel Prize-winning scientists filed a petition against the Act as ‘friends of the court’, viz., amici curiae. The scholars accused the ID movement of advancing religious beliefs over science. As a result, in a decisive ruling, the US Supreme Court found Louisiana’s “Creationism Act” as unconstitutional. Promoting religious views in public schools disobeys the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
2.2.4. The Full Metamorphosis into ID Movement
Soon after the US federal court ruling of Edwards vs. Aguillard (1987), the seminal book Of Pandas and People swapped all references to creationism with ‘intelligent design’. The book was still in draft stage at that time. Nearly 150 such references were replaced.
Apparently, one of the ID movement’s founding members, Charles Thaxton, had accidentally discovered the replacement phrase. According to the Discovery Institute, a think-tank associated with the ID movement, he had picked up the term from a NASA scientist.
At this juncture, other scholars notably Philip E. Johnson, Stephen C. Meyer, Paul A. Nelson, and Michael Denton joined in. Overall, this diverse group of scholars was looking for alternative explanations for Darwinian evolution. This group would become the face of the ID Movement.
2.2.5. Intelligent Design Fresh Try for School Curricula
To counteract the losing ground in the courtrooms, the ID proponents took the battle to public arenas. They began a fresh wave of effort to reintroduce intelligent design into public schools. Undeniably, the obvious target were the state school boards and school districts.
For this purpose, the local Christian conservative organizations were massively mobilized throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century. They, in turn, coaxed the state school boards and districts into altering the way evolutionary theory was presented in schools.
In the new rules, the teachers were required to include various clauses against evolutionary theory. Next, using push tactics Intelligent Design had to be introduced to the students as the actual scientific explanation. Furthermore, the group highly publicized seminal books such as Of Pandas and People with the school boards.
2.2.6. The Decisive Court Battle
Over the following years, the school education boards met with several lawsuits against them. Notably, in the decisive US District Court case of Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District (2005), the parents and teachers sued the school district for promoting religious views.
In an attempt to clearly define what is intelligent design, the court concluded that it is not ‘science’. Conversely, the so-called theory is a set of unfounded religious ideas. As a result of these lawsuits, most State Textbook Committees removed Intelligent Design and any mention from the curricula.
Indeed, this was an irony as the Intelligent Design movement vehemently disassociated itself from faith-based principles. However, all the court investigations had consistently found a lot of similarities between creationism and Intelligent Design.
3. The ID Movement on Steroids
After decades of defensive strategies to validate intelligent design theory as scientific, the ID proponents morphed their tactics. Instead, they geared into a battery of offensive strategies.
Further, the movement came up with new pseudoscientific concepts. These concepts would sound just like a scientific theory but do not meet scientific standards. In reality, such concepts leveraged existing gaps in scientific knowledge and dropped into abrupt solutions.
Moreover, the group started many new sister organizations to carry out these strategies. These organizations worked under the guidance of Philip Johnson and other prominent members of the ID movement.
Firstly, the ID theorists needed to counter criticism by the scientists while simultaneously gaining support from conservative Christian groups. For that purpose, they launched two-faced campaign strategies.
Secondly, they refined their pseudoscientific concepts to gain favor with academia and school boards. Several affiliated organizations came up to carry out lobbying with these institutions.
Thirdly, they collaborated with other like-minded organizations to covertly advance conservative politics and evangelical Protestant views.
3.1. The Strategies of the Intelligent Design Movement
In the early 1990s, the ID movement started formulating new strategies as a part of its offensive program.
3.1.1. The Wedge Strategy
In line with the offensive program to spread the Intelligent Design theory in the broader society, the leaders of the ID movement formulated new game plans. Most notable proponents like Philip Johnson and Michael Behe to name a few, came up with the Wedge Strategy.
Wedge Strategy is a socio-political idea mainly authored by Philip Johnson. The term appears in his book The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism. The details of the strategy are written in Discovery Institute’s declaration called the Wedge Document. This document explains the short- and long-term plans of the ID movement.
As the name suggests, the Wedge Strategy attempts to drive a so-called ‘wedge’ into the structure of the society. It aims to completely overthrow “scientific materialism”. Further, plans are outlined to replace existing foundations with god-centric views on creation.
In other words, the strategy seeks to actively reshape public policy and opinion. Clearly, their framework for this purpose is right-wing Christian ideology. The main sections of society that the Wedge Strategy targets are public school boards, mass media, and legislatures.
3.1.2. Teach the Controversy Campaign
The ‘Teach the Controversy‘ campaign was first publicly presented by Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer and Bruce Chapman in 2002. The ID movement touted the campaign as a trailblazer to expose evidence gaps in evolutionary theory. To that end, they demand teaching intelligent design in biology courses at high schools and colleges.
The campaign is an action component of the Wedge Strategy. Overall, the campaign leverages these evidence gaps in evolutionary theory to its advantage. School boards affiliated with the ID movement require the schools to formally introduce these gaps in the classrooms. Then, the teachers present the students with Intelligent Design as an alternate theory.
Intelligent Design theory is not validated by the scientific community. Generally, school students and their parents are largely unaware of this. Unfortunately, the schools teach unscientific Intelligent Design theory to these unsuspecting students.
126.96.36.199. Backhanded Agenda of the Campaign
In addition to actively promoting Intelligent Design with the school boards, ‘Teach the Controversy’ campaign uses indirect tactics as well. It consistently has portrayed the scientific community as narrow-minded for rejecting Intelligent Design as unscientific.
Surprisingly, the campaign never directly challenges the scientific community. Instead, the campaign targets a specific group of people who believe in divine intervention, rather than natural processes. Pro-religious organizations and citizens’ groups are its primary targets.
3.2. Main Concepts of Intelligent Design Theory
The Intelligent Design proponents present two key arguments against the theory of evolution. These are ‘irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’. Notably, these concepts were specifically designed to oppose evolutionary theory. However, in and itself these concepts are not scientifically validated.
3.2.1. Irreducible Complexity
Intelligent Design proponent and biochemist Michael Behe came up with this concept. The term ‘irreducible complexity’ states that the natural world is full of irreducibly complex systems. These biological machineries are made of complex interdependent parts. Consequently, removing any such complex part will lead to collapse of the whole biological system. Thereupon, he argued that only an intelligent designer can form these complex structures as a single functional complex unit.
Further to assert his theory, Behe introduced the term ‘black box’ in his book Darwin’s Black Box. Similar to black boxes in airplanes, it is a representative term. It represents gaps of evidence in the theory of evolution. All scientific theories have gaps in knowledge because we are still discovering. However, on the basis of these gaps the ‘black box’ claim completely rejects the soundness of evolutionary theory.
To support his theory, Behe gives examples of features of living beings. Take for example, the vertebrate eye, blood clotting, and the immune system. He argued that smaller complex units are necessary for these complex features to work as a functional entity.
This concept assumes that smaller parts of a system are intrinsically complex. This concept is the foundation stone of Intelligent Design. According to the ID proponents, inherently complex systems most certainly needs an intelligent designer.
3.2.2. Specified Complexity
Charles Thaxton first used this term in his seminal publication Mystery of Life’s Origin. He claimed that the huge information contained in cells’ DNA is a direct evidence of an intelligent designer. He argued that undirected processes like natural selection cannot explain such volume of information.
Further, only an intelligent agent can form complex molecular machines that reads genetic information. Overall, the concept proposes that if a system is both complex and specified, then an intelligent cause is certain.
Mathematician and theologist William Dembski further forwarded this concept. Dembski coined the term ‘complex-specified’ information. This is a number that quantifies the rarity of its occurrence of a complex structure. He came up with a probability value of ‘less than 1/10^150’. This means that its occurrence of a complex structure is very unlikely.
3.2.3. Fine-tuned Universe
This concept was mainly forwarded by Guillermo Gonzalez. According to this concept, universal constants are fine-tuned with extreme precision and accuracy. A little change in the numbers can cause a lot of change in the universe.
Intelligent Design claims that such minute details cannot be explained by natural causes. Hence, they believe that an intelligent designer created the universe with specific structures and functions.
3.3. Organizations and Institutions of the Intelligent Design Movement
Throughout the course of the ID movement, its members established several organizations. Almost all of them define themselves as non-profit think tanks of the movement.
3.3.1. The Organizations of the Intelligent Design Movement
The forerunner among these organizations is the former Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) which existed between 1981 and 2016. Currently, the Discovery Institute Press has taken over the responsibility. Both organizations have been carrying out various publishing tasks, including books and articles.
In fact, the Discovery Institute manages most of Intelligent Design’s activities. The Institute provides major financial, political, and infrastructural support to the Intelligent Design movement.
The Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC) is a lobbyist group. It was previously called the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC). It lobbies with the school boards to teach intelligent design in the school curricula. Besides, the CSC is considered the organization that came up with the Wedge Strategy. It also designs the ID movement’s 5-year and 20-year plans.
3.3.2. The Common Agenda and Goals
The Discovery Institute massively supports the ID movement by promoting campaigns like ‘Teach the Controversy’. Additionally, these organizations also run related campaigns like ‘free speech on evolution’ and ‘academic freedom campaign’.
Moreover, it helps legislators draft bills for removing the teaching theory of evolution in schools. Further, the Discovery Institute also assists by mobilizing citizen groups and drafting petitions against the school boards. The goal of these campaigns is to substitute evolutionary theory with Christian and evangelical ideologies.
4. Criticism of Intelligent Design
So, The mainstream scientific community, including public universities, academic institutions, and scientific organizations completely opposes the Intelligent Design theory. Its critics argue that the theory is grossly unscientific, and based on opinions rather than facts.
Modern science asserts that any scientific theory should be testable, observable, and open to change. Contrarily, intelligent design theory is based on circuitous logic. Further, it is closed off to discoveries in the natural world. It is not very surprising that no intelligent design article has a peer-review status. Moreover, there is a complete lack of observable facts.
Consequentially, the critics ask what is ‘intelligent design’ anyway. Is it simply an opinion based on a personal interpretation of the complexities? Prominent critics like Eugenie C. Scott argued that assuming an intelligent cause is an ‘argument from ignorance’. She has accused ID theorists are simply coming up with the idea of an intelligent agent just because there is no evidence otherwise.
This is also called the ‘Gods-of-the-gaps’ argument. ID theory leverages certain inevitable gaps in evolutionary theory and attempts to insert intelligent cause, at best.
The critics point out that the theory only reflects the religious beliefs of the movement. A renowned critic of intelligent design, Richard Dawkins, even argues that allowing such pseudoscientific theories our resources will only delay further scientific advancements.
4.1. Critique for Main Intelligent Design Concepts
ID theorists usually present two important points of argument- the ‘irreducible complexity’ and the ‘specified complexity’. These key concepts were devised backward, assuming the presence of an intelligent cause. Moreover, these concepts were never scientifically tested. In other words, ID theorists do not provide any evidence for their conclusions.
Critics of irreducible complexity point out a major flaw in assuming the inherent functional necessity of the complex parts. Whereas, the critics of specified complexity discard the concept as discursive.
They counterargue that random numbers were used to calculate complexity to make it look scientifically derived. There is no scientific consensus regarding such numbers or calculations.
4.2. Critique for ID Campaigns and Agendas
The scientific community believes that there is no actual controversy to teach when it comes to the ‘teach the controversy’ campaign. Critics argue that Intelligent Design theorists have just renamed the ongoing disagreement between evolutionary biologists and creationists.
Presenting the Wedge Strategy as a question allowed the ID proponents more time for evidence gathering and a gentler introduction to schools and parents. Critics say the strategy is an attempt to push conservative Christian views. It still influences the ID movement despite being ruled unconstitutional.
Intelligent Design denies the scientific theories of evolution and natural selection. Alternatively, they present the Intelligent Design theory which they claim is scientifically valid.
The ID proponents claim that living beings and the fossil record show evidence of intelligently designed systems. Consequently, they believe that undirected processes such as natural selection cannot explain such complexity in natural laws and organisms.
But the question remains- what is intelligent design? Is the theory a hoax or science? More importantly, can we trust in the validity of this theory? And most importantly, can we teach this to our future generations? Is this an extremist view with a hidden agenda?
Ultimately, it is we the general public, who need to make informed decisions. Our decision will ultimately be a reflection of our desire to know the truth. So, what will it be?
Payel is an avid writer. She hails from the community and public health fields. Payel has an insatiable knack for traveling, meeting people, and knowing their cultures and customs. Her writing reflects her passion in the lifestyle genre.
Payel envisions to bring out the nuances and angles of our lives through things that matter to us.