Darwin a Friend of Theology? Part 3 – Intelligent Design




Intelligent Design is quite difficult to place. Intelligent Design is sometimes grouped together with creationism, but Intelligent Design propagators deny that creationism and Intelligent Design are the same thing. U.S District Judge John E. Jones is quoted by Bailey as saying that ID is “a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory… ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.” While there is truth in this statement, it should be noted that the Intelligent Designer is not always identified with the Christian God. Yet, Intelligent Design recognizes that there must be some sort of Designer of the cosmos.

The notion of intelligent design is an ancient one that has existed in various forms since the ancient Greeks. The term “Intelligent Design” (as opposed to evolution which is seen as blind) is credited to F. C. S. Schiller who used it in 1897. The modern movement started in the early 1990’s and some prominent Intelligent Design proponents are Michael Behe, William Dembski, Philip Johnson and Jonathan Wells. Phillip Johnson is sometimes seen as the “father of Intelligent Design.”  William Dembski explains Intelligent Design as such: “According to the theory of intelligent design, the specified complexity exhibited in living forms convincingly demonstrates that blind natural forces could not by themselves have produced these forms but that their emergence also required the contribution of a designing intelligence.”

Haarsma and Gray describe Intelligent Design as “the theory that biological evolution is limited to making small changes so that biological complexity could have been produced only if God (or someone) superseded evolution during biological history.” Intelligent Design is usually vague about the specifics of creation, eg. whether it was gradual or immediate, whether it took days or ages. Because of the vagueness and flexibility, Intelligent Design can adapt to most counter-arguments. Intelligent Design relies heavily on the argument from design, also called the teleological argument and the physico-theological argument. The argument from design relies on the apparent design and purpose of the universe to infer that a designer must exist. As mentioned before, this Designer need not be the Christian God.

Probably the most famous argument of Intelligent Design is that of the watch found lying on the ground by William Paley. In the words of Paley, “…the inference, we think, is inevitable; that the watch must have had a maker; that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.” Paley was a naturalist and Anglican cleric who wrote before Darwin and also influenced Darwin before his voyage on the Beagle. The question of design in nature was an important one in theological circles during the nineteenth century in Europe, England, and America.

The Anthropic Principle seems to support Intelligent Design and can be invoked as a major argument for an Intelligent Designer. The cosmologist Brandon Carter coined the term in 1973 and the principle states that “human observers can deduce certain characteristics about the universe simply from the fact that they exist and are capable of studying it. In its strongest form, the anthropic principle insists that no universe could exist that did not have characteristics that would allow the evolution of intelligence at some point in its history.” The Strong Anthropic Principle, which is not widely held, states that the observer needs to exist in order for physics to remain constant. Those who accept the Strong Anthropic Principle do so on grounds of quantum theory. Lacey and Proudfoot state the widely accepted understanding of the Anthropic Principle: “the universe is so organized as to permit life as we know it to exist, because were the universe not organized in precisely this fashion, human beings would not exist and so could not observe the universe.”

Numerous physical constants of the universe make life possible. These constants are: the strong nuclear force, which binds protons and neutrons, the amount of energy lost during atomic fusion, atomic forces, the force of gravity, and the laws of chemistry, especially with regard to hydrogen bonding and the characteristics of water. According to the anthropic principle, there is only one universe able to support life. If there are other universes, their constants would not enable the development of life.

David H. Bailey describes the Intelligent Design strategy as a “wedge” strategy in which the “controversy of evolution” is taught first and then Intelligent Design is promoted as an alternative. The strategy ends off with “edging out evolution in favor of biblical theism.” Edward B. Davis also speaks in less than amiable terms of Intelligent design and states that the number of adherents were won “partly because its adherents typically refuse to discuss divisive issues such as the age of the earth, concentrating instead on the inadequacy of evolution to explain the origin of life, the origin of the ‘irreducible complexity’ exhibited by living things, and (to a lesser extent) the geologically sudden appearance of new animal forms at certain points in Earth history, such as the Cambrian explosion.”


I myself would group Intelligent Design under the broader term of Creationism, because it still invokes a deity or some kind of Intelligent Designer. In the next few posts I am going to take a look at some of the arguments lodged against evolution from the creationist and Intelligent Design camps. Later on, there will be a post dealing with the theological problems with Intelligent Design.


Bailey, D H 2010. Creationism and intelligent design: Scientific and theological difficulties. Dialogue: A journal of Mormon Thought 43/3, 62-81.
Davis, E B 2003. The word and the works: Concordism and American Evangelicals, in Miller, K B (ed.) 2003. Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans. 34-58.
Haarsma, L & Gray, T M 2003. Complexity, self-organization, and design, in Miller, K B (ed.) Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans. 288-309.
Lacey, A R & Proudfoot, M 2010. The Routledge dictionary of philosophy. Routledge: Abingdon.
Paley, W 1829. Natural theology: or, Evidences of the existence and attributes of the deity, collected from the appearance of nature. Boston: Lincoln & Edmands.
Pennock, R T 2002. Tower of Babel: The evidence against the new creationism. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Rice, S A 2007. Encyclopedia of evolution. New York: Facts on File.


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