The Intelligent Design Flaw

The U.S. Supreme Court determined in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) that teaching creationism in public schools had no secular purpose, advanced a religious viewpoint, and excessively entangled religion and government. So creationists adopted a new strategy to get creationism into schools—Intelligent Design (ID).

The Complex Eye

The Complex Eye
image credit: morguefile

Intelligent Design attempts to prove that the complexity of the universe and life in the universe could not arise on its own but requires a designer. The difference between creationism and ID is that ID carefully avoids identifying this designer as God.

Intelligent Design’s Creationist Roots

In order to get around the results of Edwards v. Aguillard, design proponents deny that they are promoting creationism, but creationism was the immediate source for ID. One clear demonstration of this is Of Pandas and People—the first ID book developed for classroom use.

Of Pandas and People went through multiple drafts before publication. In the draft revision from just after the Edwards v. Aguillard ruling against creationism in public schools, creationist terms were systematically changed: ‘creationism’ became ‘intelligent design’, ‘creationists’ became ‘design proponents’, and ‘intelligent creator’ became ‘intelligent agency’. A humorous result was an error that preserved parts of the old term (creationists) to read ‘cdesign proponentsists’. It is sometimes called a transitional form.

Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture is the driving force behind ID. The introduction to its Wedge Document, which describes goals and strategies, begins:

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.

The five year strategic plan summary (1999-2003) lists among the governing goals: To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God. This again points to the creationist connection to ID.

Irreducible Complexity and the Fine-tuned Universe

The best known ID arguments used to prove that complexity requires a designer are irreducible complexity and the fine-tuned universe. The argument from irreducible complexity states that some biological functions could not develop by natural selection. For example, the eye comprises many functions that must work together, and they could not have developed randomly because a partially developed eye would provide no advantage, therefore the partially developed functions would not have been conserved through natural selection.

The fine-tuned universe argument states that the universe is so perfect for life that it must be designed. If just one of a large number of factors differed by a small degree we would not exist. Therefore the universe, fine-tuned for life, must have been designed.

The Design Flaw

Though I believe firmly that the Father cares for us and has an incredible future prepared for us, I have no opinion as to whether evolution was driven by design or natural selection. One would not be able to tell the difference because the process appears natural and the result appears designed.

The underlying presupposition of ID is that a complex system cannot arise without a designer, and herein lies the flaw. Naturalistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins engages ID by stating in The Blind Watchmaker, page 140:

Any God capable of intelligently designing something as complex as the DNA/protein machine must have been at least as complex and organized as that machine itself.

This is a valid argument against the claims of Intelligent Design. If the complex fine-tuning of the universe and irreducible complexities of biology require a designer, then who designed the designer?

Theologians contend that God is self-existent; the concept is called aseity. But if a complex God can exist without a designer, it destroys the assertion of Intelligent Design that complexity must have a designer.

I believe in God, but Intelligent Design fails as a proof for God and it fails as science.

Your observations and comments are welcome below.
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15 Responses to The Intelligent Design Flaw

  1. sheila0405 says:

    Nicely stated! What I hated about ID when it was first proposed, was the lengths to which it went into staying AWAY from naming God. Thus, it could have been aliens, for all we knew, that designed our universe. And, if so, where did the aliens come from? It’s circular reasoning, trying hard to sustain itself without the needed element of faith. Of course, faith cannot be mentioned in ID, so the whole idea collapses in on itself. Thanks for posting this.


    • Agreed. I am sure you know the idea of not mentioning God was to get ID into the public schools with the thought that people would realized that the intelligent designer was God after all. It was sneaky and it didn’t work. But if someone thinks the designer might be aliens the same problem arises–who designed the aliens?


  2. Bob says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I really had no idea that this was such a big deal – this is why I like working overseas I think:-)
    I dont want to sound like a trouble maker but here is the thing for me – in eternity will it really matter? I mean while this bloody debate rages on how many girls have been trafficked into sexual slavery, how many people have starved and how many people have gone without hearing of the Love and Mercy and Grace of God?
    Sometimes I think I must be a bit jaded from things – but so little really flippin matters outside of “God Is Love” –
    Thank you for sharing – honestly I just got back from the states for a quick visit and I remember seeing this new church “campus” complete with waterfalls and gardens and thinking – what a ridiculously insane way to focus our time here. I could have started 20 new educational programs at least with that money – programs that would stop people from being slaves!
    Sorry I went on a rant!


    • You are right Bob! Helping people is so much more important than creationist issues. I deal with the issues because my blog is about two things; the first is Jesus and the second is the baggage that has been added to his message. We can help people more if we don’t have baggage and try to load other people with baggage too.

      I much prefer writing about Jesus and the love of the Father, but the baggage needs to be addressed because it gets in the way. And I respond like you to lavish church facilities; it seems like a waste of money to me.

      Thank you so much for your comments and for your contribution to helping people.


  3. I think the first paragraph is a sufficient argument enough. However, for those ID-proponents that deny that their ideas are mostly creationism in disguise, is it provable that there was no ID movement prior to the Edwards v. Aguillard case of 1987?


    • The idea of intelligent design, and even the term, pre-dates 1987, but the real beginning of a distinctly intelligent design movement began with Of Pandas and People. The way Thaxton adopted the term for the book might be useful in answering your question:

      ‘As the academic editor for FTE, Thaxton was then serving as the editor for Pandas, and as it neared completion, Thaxton continued to cast around for a term to describe a science open to evidence for intelligent causation and free of religious assumptions, a term without the religious baggage associated with “creation” but one less ponderous than “intelligent cause,” and, at the same time, more general, a term that could refer to the design theory in toto.

      ‘He found it in a phrase he picked up from a NASA scientist–intelligent desgin. “That’s just what I need,” Thaxton recalls thinking. “It’s a good engineering term…. After I first saw it, it seemed to jibe. When I would go to meetings, I noticed it was a phrase that would come up from time to time. And I went back through my old copies of Science magazine and found the term used occasionally.” Soon the term “intelligent design” was incorporated into the language of the book.”

      ‘The term intelligent design was already a functioning term in science, and it was just a matter of extending the term to the process of design detection in natural structures. “I knew from Polanyi that the laws of chemistry and physics were not responsible for the sequencing of the nucleotides,” Thaxton said, “but I didn’t know how to link that to intelligence till I read Hubert Yockey’s paper in 1981 that there is a structural identity between the nucleotide sequences in DNA and the alphabetical letter sequences in a book.”‘


  4. Marc says:

    I must admit, I am not sure why there is so much controversy regarding this. Clearly a curriculum that includes young earth creation concepts that are not scientifically supported is not appropriate for public schools. However exploration of models of origins apart from Darwinian evolution that incorporate the current findings of all the sciences, should not be excluded from public school curriculum. If this model includes ID or a possible creator, it is only exposing the students to concepts that have a long history in humanity’s quest for understanding.


  5. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Hi Marc,

    In my opinion, ID is a rehash of creationism pretending to be something else. However, one could use ID even to support guided evolution. My difficulty, though, is with the premise of ID that a complex universe requires a designer and yet does not address the question of who designed the complex designer.

    One could state it this way: God (the designer) is so perfect for creating the universe that he must have had a designer. I do not think God requires a designer, but ID fails in its essential premise and just kicks the can down the road.


    • Ed Ford says:

      The ID counter to the argument of “Who designed the designer?” is here:


      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Hi Ed, these are similar to other such arguments I have heard, but they are in a tight, brief format. Thanks! One of the empty defenses I have read is among the ones listed–that God is simple and not complex. One writer even added that God has no moving parts. I think this is all pure philosophical speculation. We think we know more about the details of God than is possible from the information (and philosophical deduction) to which we have access.

        By the way, are you related to my good friend Dick the Ford? If so, Hello! It’s been a long time.


  6. Pingback: Does an Evolutionary Adam Provide a Compromise between Evolution and Creation? | Jesus Without Baggage

  7. Nick says:

    There can be nothing that exists without cause. Energy and matter do not spontaneously come about. The creator is a self sustaining eternal being. If we argue who created the creator it is a never ending regress. There has to be some starting point bc science itself even says this. To have a good explanation you do not necessarily have to be able to explain the explanation. That is why it is impossible to know God without Faith. Mass- energy is finite so we know it didn’t create the universe or itself for that matter. Look to the heavens and know that He is God. Do not fear this.


    • Hi Nick. Glad you are here!

      I think the idea that anything exist is extremely fascinating. You say ‘There can be nothing that exists without cause.’ And yet you say ‘The creator is a self sustaining eternal being.’ Then how can the creator exist without a cause? Whatever the answer is to this question, it seems to me to defeat the premise of Intelligent Design.

      It is obvious that we, God, and the universe exist, but how we exists is a mystery to me. What do you mean when you say ‘The creator is a self sustaining eternal being’? It sounds like a statement of fact, so what is the basis for your statement besides speculation. I am genuinely interested in knowing.


  8. Drew says:

    Teleological explanation – or explanation of phenomena in terms of purposes or goals (Greek, telos) – clearly goes back to ancient (pre-Christian) thought, most notably in Aristotle. It does not appear that Aristotle treated teleological explanation as a subjective “anthropomorphization” of natural phenomena, but as a legitimate way of knowing and understanding natural phenomena.

    Intelligent Design theory can be understood as a more specific version of teleological explanation which supposes that there is a single agent (or perhaps committee of agents) that planned out all natural phenomena in advance of their happening, or which perhaps tweaks things along the way.

    Early modern science emerged as the rejection of teleological explanation along with its rejection of church authority on matters of physical science, more exclusively favoring what Aristotle termed “efficient” and “material” explanation. Key to these forms of explanation is that they do not suppose intention or purpose – which is what it means to say on evolutionary theory that species change is “random”.

    While I take Dawkins’ objection to Intelligent Design theory (restated in *God Delusion*) to be a powerful one, (i) first, it is does not stand as a rejection of teleological explanation generally, and (ii) second, I don’t think it counts as the sort of objection that settles the matter of Intelligent Design either. This suggests that we should “teach the controversy,” even if that slogan has been co-opted by fundamentalists.

    If we take Aristotle (commonly thought of as the “father of science” as we know it today) to have some insight into what rational thought involves, I think this provides a presumption for opening up science textbooks to acknowledge the possibility of real, natural teleological causation, and to include clear, concise consideration of the arguments even for intelligent design, along with objections, all with a careful eye to empirical evidence and statistical method.

    I expect that the early modern scientific rejection of teleological explanation (along with Occam’s “simple explanation” directive for the physical world) was a methodological expedient needed to put investigation into physical phenomena on new footing free of church authority. But today this methodological directive is generally treated (at least in the education of science) as a substantive scientific conclusion. But I think the total rejection of teleological explanation for natural phenomena diminishes rather than augments our rational capacity.

    While recent advocacy of Intelligent Design theory may be inspired by a movement to indoctrinate students with mainstream Abrahamic religious belief, a greater openness to rational investigation would simply note this historical fact, rather than rely upon ad hominem argument against Intelligent Design or teleological explanation.

    In my own view, some other form of teleological explanation besides a “central planning” Intelligent Design theory is more promising as a fuller naturalistic account of evolution and of our day to day experience of remarkable synchronicity (sometimes defined as “meaningful coincidence”), but that gets us off topic.

    Thanks, Tim, for a clear presentation of the issues and their history, as always!


    • Drew, you seem to have a very good handle on this. I agree with you; evolution could very well be directed by God. My objection to Intelligent Design as presented by young-earth creationists has little to do with the idea of design itself but to the assertions they make of ID being a proof of a creator and as a defeater of the idea that a complex system cannot arise without a creator.

      The framework of my belief contains a significant teleological component. I like your thinking, and I hope we hear more from you.


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