Twice I have heard certain critiques levelled against intelligent design theory and its proponents that do not seem to me to comment on the actual theory. I would like to present this critique now and point out that is not actually critique of intelligent design, but a critique of some misunderstood modification thereof. As a critique of this as yet unnamed third theory, it is devestating. Of intelligent design theory per se, it is not a critique at all.

Critique of some theory #1: Federal Judge John E. Jones III… called [intelligent design] a “mere re-labeling of creationism” and said it amounted to an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

What intelligent design is not, part 1: Intelligent design is not Christian, is not Creationism in the normal sense of the term, nor is it even Theistic. It is a scientific hypothesis born out of observation of our very perplexing universe.*

Critique of some theory #2: “I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.”

First of all this is hilarious. Second of all, it does not, sadly, comment on the important issues surround the origins debate. The critique being levelled, if I may be permitted to “propositionalize” the joke, is that invoking a god or gods as the creator of things, without seeing him, knowing anything about him (them), or even making sense of his (their) attributes, is absurdity beyond absurdity. Well and good! God does make sense to some people, I have no problem with that.

What intelligent design is not, part 2: Intelligent design makes no comment (as of yet) as to who this intelligence is. Whether it is a spaghetti monstor, a lepricon, or James Taylor, having become supremly powerful and omniscient, going back in time to design our universe to support life… this is not currently at question. The first question for science is, “The universe has irreducibly complex systems within it. What hypothesis explains this data?”

I do hope this clarification is helpful to some people. Please let me know if it is not, or if I am missing something.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by Keith E. Buhler


  1. Ironically, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, funny as it is, is, indeed, an illustration that Intelligent Design is not a Christian creationist hypothesis despite what Judge John Jones says. So I wish he had ruled against it on different merits.

    The problem with intelligent design has nothing to do with its apparent association with Biblical Creationism and everything to do with the fact that it is not science and employs no science.

    It is, in fact, ascientific. The hypothesis posits that modern complexity of life can only be explained by an intelligent designer. Yet it cannot define “intelligent,” and so cannot make any falsifiable predictions, and the probabilistic predictions one might expect it to make contradict observation.

    For example, a man’s urethra, passes through his prostate which is prone to inflammation later in life causing all kinds of problems. That does not appear to be “intelligent.”

    Mammals cannot swallow and breath at the same time because they swallow and breath through the same tube. Many choking deaths result from this. So what definitions of “intelligent” account for this?

    If a designer is intelligent, one might expect him to reuse the innovation from one organism on any other. But in an evolved system, an organism can only use and make minor modifications to traits inherited from its ancestors. So then which hypothesis explains why birds and bats, both engineered for flying, do not share traits such as hollow bones, feathers, and wishbones? Could an eagle not benefit from a canine-like mouth? Maybe beaks are better for flying. But then why did bats not get any?

    Intelligent Design proponents simply do not define “intelligent.” They will also say that there is too much “information” in the genome to have evolved, but cannot define “information.”

    Intelligent design is basically set up as a catch-all for any gaps in evolutionary theory. If we can’t think of a less complex example of, say, blood clotting, we call it irreducibly complex and say that gradual evolution cannot account for it. However, evidence against evolution is not evidencefor Intelligent Design. In fact, the apparent irreducible complexity of blood clotting is a very vulnerable system. It has no redundancy and has many failure points. Hemophilia is a result of this. If designed, it does not appear to be intelligent.

    So even if Intelligent Design is not “creationism relabeled” it is still not science and is not the logical conclusion when gaps in evolutionary theory are discovered.

    Personally I have had intelligent design advocates say to me that it is possible that the universe was created by an intelligent designer who left no evidence of himself or his role in the design. In fact, he may have designed the very idea of evolution and made his creation to resemble it exactly. I agree, but then what does science care in that case and why have this discussion? Intelligent Design is one for Philosophy 101 or Theology 101 but not for science class.

    I’m all for listing some of evolution’s difficulties in science textbooks. But putting Intelligent Design in there is tantamount to advising students that it is permissible to blame miracles when some of the evidence defies a hypothesis.


  2. Keith, what do you make of this piece of evidence, which seems to make the connection between creationism and intelligent design quite explicit?


  3. Allow me. The term “creation” is also a generic, non-religious term. “Creation” and “Intelligent Design” are interchangeable because the hypothesis of Intelligent Design is that the designer created. In most creationist books it is not possible to simply replace “creation” with “Intelligent Design” because they make clear references to scripture. In cases where it is possible to replace one with the other, the book is religiously ambiguous already. This article is simply irresponsibly implying that the term “creation” itself is identical to “Biblical creation” and that is neither correct, nor is it helpful.

    Judge Jones, on the other hand, did rule that he believed the board members who put the intelligent design “disclaimer” in the textbooks did so for religious reasons only. This was part of his decision.


  4. Referencing that article, it is also fair to note that it doesn’t matter if intelligent designer advocates are biblical creationists. The issue ought to be evaluated on its merits. Many proponents of evolution are ardent, even evangelical atheists, which is, itself, a religion. Their advocacy of evolution does not speak to the merits of evolution. Neither should the motives of intelligent design advocates be considered. Who cares? Intelligent design is perfectly vulnerable under its own lack of merit, which is why Judge Jones got it right for the wrong reasons.


  5. Naomi, regarding the article, I agree with Warren insofar as some reporter perpetuating the misunderstanding of Intelligent Design is no more than a misunderstanding.

    I wrote the above post for precisely that reason: the misunderstanding is so ubiquitous.

    The labelling of intelligent design theory as “religious” is fear-based. Scientists and intellectuals are (rightfully) worried about fuzzy, sentiment-based foolishness being taught in schools.

    They need not be worried, however. We are all on the quest to understand the evidence. Irreducible complexity, fine-tuning, to mention a few modern mysteries, must be explained as best we can. Considering the possibility or probability of intentionality in the structure of the universe is pure, wholesome, scientific inquiry.


  6. That is:


  7. The hypothesis posits that modern complexity of life can only be explained by an intelligent designer.

    A small modification: The position is that modern complexity of life is currently best explained by an intelligent designer.

    Evolutionary scientists may eventually win out and show how irreducibly complex systems evolve. Until then, the hypothesis on the table is far more probable.

    This is my understanding of how inquiry works. We go from best explanation to best explanation, onward and upward, until we fully understand.


  8. In the comment on part III, I point out that “Intelligent Designer” does not explain anything because, neither intellect nor design, are not known to create new species. Another process is required. For creationists, the process is supernatural creation. For evolutionists it is genetic mutation and natural selection. What does Intelligent Design have?

    Where did all the complexity come from? “An intelligent designer” doesn’t explain anything, scientifically, unless we can explain how he’s doing it.

    So how is it the “best” explanation. Also see comments on part II. The three bullets in that case get there because of physics. Science can tell us how far, at what angle, from which gun, and whose finger, but intent never moved a bullet.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *