[Editor's note: This article was posted as part of a series of articles both for and against ID at OpposingViews.com.]
"I wasn’t comfortable with the typical vocabulary that for the most part creationists were using because it didn’t express what I was trying to do. They were wanting to bring God into the discussion, and I was wanting to stay within the empirical domain and do what you can do legitimately there."1
--Chemist Charles Thaxton explaining why he adopted "intelligent design" terminology, thereby giving birth to the “Intelligent Design Movement”
ID has scientific merit because it is does not try to address religious questions about the supernatural and limits its claims to what can be scientifically inferred from the empirical domain; this makes ID distinct from creationism and shows that ID respects the scientific method and methodological naturalism's requirements that scientific claims be repeatable and reliable.
Intelligent design (ID) as a scientific theory limits its scientific claims to what can be learned from the empirical data and does not attempt to address religious questions about the identity or metaphysical nature of the designer. This makes ID distinct from creationism and shows that ID respects the limits of scientific inquiry. Setting any potential failings of methodological naturalism aside, ID does not violate methodological naturalism’s requirements that scientific claims be based upon observable, repeatable, and reliable scientific investigations.
A. Intelligent design does not study the designer, but rather studies natural objects to determine if they bear the tell-tale signs that they were designed by an intelligent cause.
Many critics of ID mistakenly believe that the theory is focused upon studying the designer, alleging that it specifically invokes supernatural forces or a deity. But ID is not focused on studying the actual intelligent cause responsible for life. Instead, ID studies objects in nature, attempting to determine if natural objects bear an informational signature indicating that an intelligent cause was involved in their origin. As William Dembski explains:
B. Intelligent design does not attempt to address religious questions about the identity or metaphysical nature of the designer.
As noted, ID limits its claims to what can be learned from the empirical data, meaning that it does not try to address religious questions about the identity or nature of the designer. While the empirical data can allow us to study natural objects and determine whether they arose from an intelligent cause, the empirical data may not allow us to determine the identity or metaphysical nature of the intelligent cause.
One of the earliest works on ID, the textbook Of Pandas and People (“Pandas”), explains that ID merely seeks to infer "intelligent causes" and is compatible with a wide variety of religious viewpoints, including pantheism and agnosticism:
While Pandas was a very early ID work, published long before many major ID ideas and concepts were formulated and published, Pandas’ non-identification of the designer has remained the consistent position of ID proponents throughout its history. For example, William Dembski explains that "Intelligent design is modest in what it attributes to the designing intelligence responsible for the specified complexity in nature. For instance, design theorists recognize that the nature, moral character and purposes of this intelligence lie beyond the competence of science and must be left to religion and philosophy."7 Similarly, Michael Behe explains that ID remains silent on questions about whether the designer is natural or supernatural:
Similarly, Phillip Johnson writes that “my personal view is that I identify the designer of life with the God of the Bible, although intelligent design theory as such does not entail that."12 In fact, I too believe the designer is the God of the Bible, but this is not a conclusion of ID; it is my personal religious view that stems from factors outside of intelligent design. Any fair analysis must come to the following conclusions about ID and questions about the identity or nature of the designer:
C. Intelligent design’s non-identification of the designer stems from an intent to respect for limits of scientific inquiry and not make claims that go beyond what can be learned using scientific methods.
The refusal of ID proponents to use ID to draw scientific conclusions about the nature or identity of the designer is principled rather than merely rhetorical. ID's non-identification of the designer stems from a desire to take a scientific approach and respect the limits of scientific inquiry, and not inject religious discussions about theological questions into science. In short, ID does not identify the designer because under present knowledge and technology, there is no known scientific method for identifying the intelligent source responsible for design in nature. Thus for the scientific theory of ID to try to identify the designer would be to inappropriately conflate science with religion.
Thomas Woodward explains the principled reasons why the current biological evidence for ID is insufficient to allow us to identify the designer:
ID is primarily a historical science, meaning it uses principles of uniformitarianism to study present-day causes and then applies them to the historical record in order to infer the best explanation for the origin of the natural phenomena being studied. ID starts with observations showing the effects of intelligence in the natural world. As Pandas explains, scientists have “uniform sensory experience”14 with intelligent causes (i.e. humans), thus making intelligence an appropriate explanatory cause within historical scientific fields. However, the "supernatural" cannot be observed, and thus historical scientists applying uniformitarian reasoning cannot appeal to the supernatural. If the intelligence responsible for life were supernatural, science could only infer the prior action of intelligence, but could not determine whether the intelligence was supernatural.15
D. Intelligent design is distinct from creationism.16
In order to address claims that ID is creationism, we require a working definition of "creationism." Even ID’s leading critics admit that ID is not creationism when creationism is defined as young earth creationism ("YEC"). As Eugenie Scott writes, "most ID proponents do not embrace a Young Earth, Flood Geology, and sudden creation tenets associated with YEC."17
There are more general definitions of "creationism" than the widely-known YEC view. Leading scholars on both sides of this debate agree that creationism defined generally holds that "supernatural" powers created life.18 Indeed, in its 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court basically adopted this definition, finding that creationism was religion because it referred to a "supernatural creator."19 Under this broad definition of creationism, ID still is not creationism. This is because, as we have seen, ID does not try to address questions about whether the designer is natural or supernatural, and in fact within biology explicitly allows that the designer could have been natural. For this reason, intelligent design lacks the key defining characteristic that caused creationism to be both unscientific and unconstitutional.
Creationists base their claims upon faith or divine revelation. But as I argued in my first opening statement ("Intelligent design (ID) has scientific merit because it uses the scientific method to make its claims and infers design by testing its positive predictions"), ID makes its arguments using the scientific data, and not faith or divine revelation. ID should not be considered the same as creationism.
From its early days, the ID-project has made empirically-based arguments that stayed entirely within the empirical domain and avoided religious questions about the supernatural. Thus, in a desperate effort to tie ID to creationism, Darwinists resort to weak semantic or "guilt by association" arguments, rather than substantive arguments, to claim that ID is creationism.
In this regard, Darwinists have often cited language in early pre-publication drafts of the Pandas textbook that used the term “creation” and later pre-publication drafts as well as published editions that used the term "intelligent design." They alleged the terminology was switched merely in an effort to evade the Edwards ruling, which found “creation science” unconstitutional.
Conceptually, early drafts of Pandas, although they used the word "creation," did not advocate "creationism" as that term has been defined by the Supreme Court and most scholars in this debate.
Before the Edwards ruling, pre-publication drafts of Pandas specifically rejected the view that science could determine whether an intelligent cause identified through the scientific method was supernatural. A pre-Edwards draft argued that "observable instances of information cannot tell us if the intellect behind them is natural or supernatural. This is not a question that science can answer."20 The same draft explicitly rejected William Paley’s eighteenth century design arguments because they unscientifically "extrapolate to the supernatural” from the empirical data. The draft stated that Paley was wrong because “there was no basis in uniform experience for going from nature to the supernatural, for inferring an unobserved supernatural cause from an observed effect."21 Another pre-publication draft made similar arguments:
Unfortunately, in his Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling, Judge Jones bought into the revisionist history of ID that claims ID is just repackaged creationism, and the Judge presented a sharply truncated and inaccurate view of the intellectual history of design. A correct history will make it clear that "intelligent design" was not a term invented to avoid the Edwards ruling, but a project that has always been distinct from the core claims of creationism.
Judge Jones traced the origins of ID back to the natural theology of William Paley and the arguments of the thirteenth century Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas. Even some critics of ID admit that “design arguments are not new,"24 for the debate over design in nature began at least as early as the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers.25 The Greek philosophers Heraclitus, Empedocles, Democritus, and Anaximander believed that life could originate without any intelligent guidance.26 Plato and Aristotle, both advocated that a mind was required to explain life's existence.27 In more modern times, Isaac Newton asked in his treatise Opticks, "Was the Eye contrived without Skill in Opticks, and the Ear without Knowledge of Sounds? [...] And these things being rightly dispatch’d, does it not appear from Phænomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent…"28
The debate over design continued vigorously among scientists and philosophers--not just theologians--at the time of Darwin in the 19th century. Zoologist and geologist Louis Agassiz, a critic of Darwin, invoked an "intellectual power"29 to explain the diversity of living organisms in his "Essay on Classification," published in the late 1850’s, near the time that Darwin published Origin of Species. The term "intelligent design" was invoked as a plausible alternative to blind Darwinian evolution in 1897 by Oxford scholar F.C.S. Schiller, who wrote that "it will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of Evolution may be guided by an intelligent design."30 Even the independent co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace, concluded that it was possible--and appropriate--to detect design in nature.31
The research and ideas that ultimately inspired ID proponents were conceived in the decades and years prior to the Edwards ruling.32 Highly influential behind ID arguments was the discovery that life depended upon information, whose structure was not only independent of its physical or chemical form, but whose ordering was not amenable to explanation by physical or chemical laws. As the chemist Michael Polanyi wrote in an article titled, "Life’s Irreducible Structure," published in the journal Science in 1968:
Horigan and Hoyle, however, did not become part of the later ID movement. But in 1984--three years before the Edwards ruling--three scientists who did help found the ID movement published a book titled The Mystery of Life's Origin that made arguments for an "intelligent cause" in the origin of the information in DNA:
In conclusion, the term "intelligent design" not only long pre-dates the Edwards ruling, but the basic arguments for design pre-date Christianity. Moreover, modern members of the ID movement started using the term "intelligent design" not to evade a court ruling, but because they sought terminology that would accurately communicate their project’s original intent to remain entirely within the empirical domain and avoid investigating religious questions about the supernatural. Since the U.S. Supreme Court declared creationism to be a religious viewpoint because it postulated a "supernatural creator," it seems that regardless of what wording was used early on, the ID project has always been substantively distinct from creationism. Any arguments that ID is creationism because early pre-publication drafts of the Pandas textbook used "creation" terminology are false conspiracy theories based not upon substance, but semantics and revisionist history. The very fact that Darwinists must resort to such arguments shows just how weak is their case that ID is creationism.
Any readers interested in learning about the true history of the origin of intelligent design might benefit from listening to two podcast interviews with Charles Thaxton on this topic at:
The Mystery of Life's Origin: An Interview with Dr. Charles Thaxton, Part Two
According to the leading ID critic Eugenie Scott, "Methodological naturalism simply requires that, in trying to explain any particular observation or experimental result, an investigator may not resort to miracles."43 The most common justifications for making MN a requirement of science is that MN ensures that scientific claims are based upon observable, predictable, and reliable empirical data. For example, biologist John A. Moore argues that science cannot invoke miracles because, "the relationship of the natural and the supernatural are unpredictable … [if] the cause of a natural event is the whim of a deity, the event is neither predictable nor fully understandable."44
ID is not an appeal to a supernatural cause, nor does it employ miracles. As William Dembski and Jonathan Wells explain, "Supernatural explanations invoke miracles and therefore are not properly part of science. Explanations that call on intelligent causes require no miracles but cannot be reduced to materialistic explanations."45 At one point, the Pandas textbook even seems to adopt methodological naturalism, stating that "intelligence . . . can be recognized by uniform sensory experience, and the supernatural . . . cannot."46 Thus ID does not invoke supernatural explanations that are, in Moore's words, subject to the "whim of a deity" nor are they, in Scott's words, a "resort to miracles."
ID makes reliable inferences. ID is based upon a simple observation-based cause-and-effect relationship between mind and the origin of information. To reiterate, I quoted Stephen Meyer arguing in my first opening statement ("Intelligent design (ID) has scientific merit because it uses the scientific method to make its claims and infers design by testing its positive predictions"):
Critics will immediately reply that while ID may not specifically invoke supernatural causation, it leaves open the possibility there was a supernatural creator. For this reason, they will argue that by permitting supernatural causation, ID may be subject to the "whim of a deity" and loses the predictability and reliability required by methodological naturalism. This argument is logically flawed.
While it is true that ID permits supernatural causation, the same is true of neo-Darwinism. For example, theistic evolutionist Kenneth Miller believes that neo-Darwinian evolution allows for the supernatural creation of life on earth,51 but neither Miller nor ID proponents are arguing that we can scientifically conclude that there was supernatural action in the creation of biological life. As discussed, the scientific theory of ID cannot determine if the designing intelligence was natural or supernatural. Thus neither ID nor neo-Darwinism violates methodological naturalism.
More importantly, design can be strongly inferred regardless of whether the designer is natural or supernatural. An underlying assumption of ID is that intelligence is a property which we can generally understand through our observations of intelligent agents in the natural world. An intelligent agent could have at least some predictable modes of designing because it has the property of intelligence, regardless of whether or not the agent was "natural" or "supernatural." In other words, both natural and supernatural designers would produce high levels of complex and specified information, allowing us to detect design regardless of whether that intelligence is acting in the natural world, or from some other "supernatural" realm. For this reason, John Moore’s "supernatural/natural" distinction does not disbar design detection from science because an underlying assumption of ID is that we can understand how intelligent agency works and detect design regardless of whether or not the intelligent agent was natural or "supernatural."
The theory of ID 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 typically starts with a religious text and tries to see how the findings of science can be reconciled to it. ID starts with the empirical evidence of nature and seeks to ascertain what scientific inferences can be drawn from that evidence. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design does not claim that modern biology can identify whether the intelligent cause detected through science is supernatural. The charge that ID is “creationism” is a rhetorical strategy on the part of Darwinists who wish to delegitimize ID without actually addressing the merits of its case.52
No matter how often ID’s critics might claim that ID is creationism, and no matter how chic they aim to sound when calling ID "creationism’s Trojan horse" or "creationism in a cheap tuxedo" or a "labcoat," the fact of the matter is that ID is a legitimate scientific alternative to neo-Darwinism that has key differences from creationism. ID's critics may coo at such rhetoric, but those interested in the facts should not.
[1.] Deposition of Charles Thaxton at 53:5-11, Kitzmiller. Dover, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005) (emphasis added).
[2.] William A Dembski, The Design Revolution, pg. 33 (InterVarsity Press, 2004).
[3.] Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, pg. 197 (Free Press, 1996).
[4.] Ibid. at 193.
[5.] Percival Davis & Dean H. Kenyon, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, pg. 161 (Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 1993) (emphasis added).
[6.] Ibid. at 7.
[7.] William Dembski, The Design Revolution, pg. 42 (InterVarsity Press, 2004) (emphasis added).
[8.] Michael Behe, "The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis," Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2001), pg. 165 (emphasis added). “Hypothesis non fingo” means to make no attempt at a hypothesis.
[9.] Michael Behe, "Philosophical Objections to Intelligent Design: Response to Critics," (July 31, 2000) at http://www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_philosophicalobjectionsresponse.htm
[11.] Michael Behe, October 17 Kitzmiller Testimony, AM Session:
Behe: No, that is completely inaccurate.
Q. Well, people have asked you your opinion as to who you believe the designer is, is that correct?
Behe: That is right.
Q. Has science answered that question?
Behe: No, science has not done so.
Q. And I believe you have answered on occasion that you believe the designer is God, is that correct?
Behe: Yes, that's correct.
Q. Are you making a scientific claim with that answer?
Behe: No, I conclude that based on theological and philosophical and historical factors.
[13.] Thomas Woodward, Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design, pg. 15 (Baker Books, 2006).
[14.] Percival Davis & Dean H. Kenyon, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, pg. 126.
[15.] This paragraph was drawn from David K. DeWolf, John West, Casey Luskin, "Intelligent Design will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover," 68 Montana Law Review 7 (Winter, 2007).
[16.] Much of this section is drawn from David K. DeWolf, John West, Casey Luskin, "Intelligent Design will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover," 68 Montana Law Review 7 (Winter, 2007).
[17.] Eugenie C. Scott, Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction, pg. 128 (Greenwood Press, 2004).
[18.] National Academy of Sciences, Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, pg. 7 (2nd ed., 1999); Phillip Johnson, Darwin on Trial, pg. 4 (2nd ed InterVarsity Press., 1993); Eugenie Scott, "Antievolutionism and Creationism in the United States," 26 Annual Review of Anthropology 263, 266 (1997); National Science Teachers, "Position Statement on the Teaching of Evolution"; Robert Pennock, Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics: Philosophical, Theological & Scientific Perspectives, pg 646 (Robert Pennock, ed. MIT Press, 2001); William A. Dembski, The Design Revolution, pg 40 (InterVarsity Press, 2004); Barbara Forrest & Paul Gross, Creationism’s Trojan Horse, pg 283 (Oxford University Press, 2004).
[19.] Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 592 (1987).
[20.] Charles Thaxton, Introduction to Teachers, in Dean H. Kenyon & P. William Davis, Biology and Origins Ms. #I, pg. 13 (unpublished ms., 1987).
[21.] Charles Thaxton, Introduction to Teachers, in Dean H. Kenyon & P. William Davis, Biology and Origins Ms. #I, pg. 13 (unpublished ms., 1987).
[22.] Charles Thaxton, Introduction to Teachers, in Dean H. Kenyon & P. William Davis, Biology and Origins Ms. #II, pg. 13 (unpublished ms., 1987).
[23.] Biology and Origins Ms. #I, pg. 13.
[24.] John Angus Campbell, "Why Are We Still Debating Darwinism? Why Not Teach the Controversy?," in Darwin, Design, and Public Education, pg. xii (John Angus Campbell ed., Michigan State University Press 2003).
[25.] In this section of my article I am deeply indebted to the research published by Stephen C. Meyer in his article, "A Scientific History--and Philosophical Defense--of the Theory of Intelligent Design."
[26.] John Angus Campbell, "Why Are We Still Debating Darwinism? Why Not Teach the Controversy?," in Darwin, Design, and Public Education, pg. xii (John Angus Campbell ed., Michigan State University Press 2003).
[27.] John Angus Campbell, "Why Are We Still Debating Darwinism? Why Not Teach the Controversy?," in Darwin, Design, and Public Education, pg. xii (John Angus Campbell ed., Michigan State University Press 2003).
[28.] Isaac Newton, Opticks, pgs. 369-370 (Prometheus Books, 2003).
[29.] Louis Agassiz, "An Essay on Classification," first published in 1857, pg. 83, at http://books.google.com/books?id=QXkLAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Louis+Agassiz#PPA83,M1.
[30.] F.C.S. Schiller, Darwinism and Design, in Humanism: Philosophical Essays, pgs. 128, 141 (2d ed., Macmillan & Co. 1912) (citing Contemporary Review, June 1897).
[31.] Alfred Russel Wallace, "Sir Charles Lyell on Geological Climates the Origin of Species," in Alfred Russel Wallace: An Anthology of His Shorter Writings, pgs. 33-34 (Charles H. Smith ed., Oxford U. Press 1991).
[32.] Many of these researchers were not themselves proponents of ID, but were scientists who made discoveries that ID proponents found lent strong scientific credibility to the argument for design. Some of these discoveries are discussed in: J. D. Watson & F. H. C. Crick, "Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid," Nature, Vol. 171:737-738 (April 25, 1953); Michael Polanyi, "Life transcending physics and chemistry," Chemical and Engineering News, Vol. 45(35) (1967); Michael Polanyi, "Life’s irreducible structure," Science, Vol. 160:1308-1312 (June 21, 1968); Hubert P. Yockey, "Self-Organization Origin of Life Scenarios and Information Theory," Journal of Theoretical Biology, Vol. 9 (1981); Marcel P. Schützenberger, "Algorithms and neo-Darwinian theory," in Mathematical challenges to the neo-Darwinian interpretation of evolution (P. S. Moorhead / M. M. Kaplan eds., 1967). See also the Proceedings of a meeting at the Wistar Institute on "Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution" held in April 1966.
[33.] Michael Polanyi, "Life’s irreducible structure," Science, Vol. 160:1308-1312 (June 21, 1968).
[34.] Fred Hoyle, Evolution from Space (The Omni Lecture), pg. 28 (Enslow Publishers 1982).
[35.] James E. Horigan, Chance or Design? (Philosophical Library, 1979).
[36.] Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, Roger Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin, pg. 211 (Lewis & Stanley, 1984).
[37.] Jonathan Witt, Discovery Inst., "The Origin of Intelligent Design: A Brief History of the Scientific Theory of Intelligent Design," at http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDBdownload.php?command=download&id=526.
[38.] Deposition of Charles Thaxton at 53:5-11, Kitzmiller v. Dover, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005) (emphasis added).
[39.] The Mystery of Life's Origin: An Interview with Dr. Charles Thaxton, Part Two, at http://www.idthefuture.com/2008/07/the_mystery_of_lifes_origin_an_1.html, at 3:50.
[40.] Ibid. at 5:15.
[41.] Ibid. at 16:55.
[42.] Ibid. at 18:15.
[43.] Eugenie C. Scott, "Monkey Business," The Sciences, New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 36(1):20-25 (January/February 1996).
[44.] John A. Moore, Science as a Way of Knowing, pg. 502 (Harvard University Press, 1993).
[45.] William Dembski and Jonathan Wells, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems, pgs. 13-14 (Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 2008).
[46.] Percival Davis & Dean H. Kenyon, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, pg. 126.
[47.] Stephen C. Meyer, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Vol. 117(2):213-239 (2004).
[48.] William A. Dembski, "Introduction: Mere Creation," in Mere Creation Science Faith & Intelligent Design, pg. 16 (William Dembski, ed., InterVarsity Press, 1998).
[49.] National Academy of Sciences, Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, pg. 27 (Washington, D.C., National Academy Press 1998).
[50.] Adapted from David K. DeWolf, John West, Casey Luskin & Jonathan Witt, Traipsing into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision, pg. 37 (Discovery Institute Press 2006).
[51.] Transcript of Proceedings, Morning Session, pg. 64:4-23 (Sept. 27, 2005), Kitzmiller v. Dover, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005).
[52.] The Theory of Intelligent Design: A Briefing Packet for Educators, pg. 6 at http://www.discovery.org/a/4299.