Intelligent design (or "ID") is a theory of creation which was put forward by advocates of creationism as a supposedly valid alternative to the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection when their previous effort, creation science, became non-viable.
ID also throws in a few scientific-sounding arguments (most notably that of "irreducible complexity") that are easily refuted by those with even a little knowledge in the relevant areas. ID advocates take no notice of such refutations and continue to present them to naive audiences as unanswered – thus qualifying ID as a form of denialism and therefore intellectually dishonest.
In its most carefully-phrased form, ID is creationism with any religion-based claims removed – basically a redress of the classical "argument by design" which has been debated for at least 2000 years (see Wikipedia), but stops short of the assertion that the "intelligent designer" is God.
Less-careful advocacy of ID often includes references to creationism or Christian doctrine, and implicitly or explicitly admits that ID is a re-dress of creationism and that their agenda has far more to do with spreading Christianity than with finding truth. The link between ID and creationism was established solidly at the Dover trial, and further confirming evidence pops up from time to time.
ID supporters are apparently driven by a belief that "Darwinism" (presented as if it were a rival religion) leads to evil – see, for example, the juxtaposition of science and Nazism in the creationist movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed – and that universal belief in Creationism is necessary in order to prevent this. These beliefs are apparently more important to them than the consideration of which belief is actually true, and adherents appear unswayed by the fact that this supposed connection is entirely manufactured.
See also: /objections
As with creationism in its other forms, ID's main purpose was (and remains) to insinuate religion into public school education in the United States. It has no real arguments to offer, its support derives exclusively from Christian ideological protectionism and evangelism, and its proponents have no interest in revising their own beliefs in the light of evidence new to them. It is a form of denialism.
As pointed out by Eliezer Yudkowsky: In the very unlikely event that consciousness was involved in the design of now-existing species, the existence of organisms designed well to exploit other well-designed organisms would argue strongly for multiple designers over a single designer. In the event that the designers are supernatural, this would support the likelihood of polytheism over monotheism and hence be an argument against all monotheisms including Christianity and Islam.
As a coherent theory, ID seems to have been created solely for the purpose of finding an argument which would be acceptable to fundamentalist Christians and yet would succeed where creationism, due to the illegality of teaching religion-based ideas as fact in US schools, had failed. ID was first put forward in 1987, in the wake of a US court decision ruling that creationism was based in religion and therefore could not be taught in US schools due to the separation of church and state. Existing works of Creationist literature (e.g. People and Pandas) were quickly modified to use the new phrase, and reprinted and promoted using language from which any religious taint had been carefully removed.
An apparently damning strategy paper generally referred to as The Wedge Document was written in 1998 by the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. The paper does not appear to be anywhere on DI's web site (currently only available on the AntiEvolution web site - "concise and accurate information for those who wish to critically examine the antievolution movement"), although there is one reply (available only in PDF at present) dated 2005-12-19 on DI's site. (This PDF should probably be transcribed at some point for easier access.)
The Wedge paper makes it clear that ID was created – at least, from the point of view of the DI/CSC – solely for the purpose of "[seeing] intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science", regardless of its veracity.
In the wake of a 2005 court ruling in Dover, PA, direct creation advocates seem to have reluctantly abandoned ID and have now moved on to advocating "critical analysis of evolution" – a phrase which sounds very reasonable and fair on the surface (science encourages critical analysis of all its findings), but which is targeted exclusively at evolution and whose aim is to undermine its credibility rather than finding the best explanation for available evidence. They also continue to advocate "teaching the controversy", an effort also exclusively targeted at evolution.
- /claims: arguments put forward as supportive of ID
ID as the Default
ID treatises often spend considerable energy on attacking "Darwinism" and extolling the virtues of ID over those of evolution, rather than refining ID as a theory (e.g. attempting to determine the exact nature of the hypothesized interventions, at what points they happened, etc.), searching for evidence, making predictions by which ID might be confirmed, and so on.
These criticisms and debates often raise seemingly-valid objections to Darwinism, but do not present evidence that actually supports ID. It seems to be an article of faith among creationists that if alternative explanations can all be refuted, then "God did it" must be accepted as a satisfactory answer; this is of course nonsense, as "God did it" does not actually explain anything.
- Hierarchy of non-scientific creation ideas:
- anti-Darwinism: opposing evolutionary ideas for the sake of taking them down, not because of a better model
- interventionist creation: not anti-scientific, but does not actually explain anything; just defers the question one more level and makes the situation unnecessarily more complicated (violating Occam's Razor)
- supernatural creation: anti-scientific by definition -- see /objections/supernatural
- intelligent design was one of a series of attacks on "Darwinism" and science in general
- intelligent design is an informal theory of creation
- intelligent design's core argument (as differentiated from other direct creation theories) would seem to be the argument from design (a variant of the argument from incredulity), i.e. "How could anything so amazingly complicated and beautiful as the universe have come about by mere accident? There must have been a Designer!"
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News & Views
- 2006-07-30 (blog entry) I.D. is Bad Science on Its Own Terms by John Rennie
- 2006-02-12 (email/reply) Subject: Intelligent Design Gedanken experiment: writer's argument seems well-stated and convincing; Pournelle's reply seems evasive.
- 2005-10-27 (article) The Brontosaurus: Monty Python's flying creationism, by William Saletan: compares Michael Behe with Miss Anne Elk
- 2002-02-13 (article) Unintelligible Redesign by William Saletan: ID offers nothing testable, and only the unsupported assertion that something which seems designed must be designed.
- The Other Intelligent Design Theories by David Brin: "Intelligent Design is only one of many "alternatives" to Darwinian evolution."
- Points out that the creation of "Intelligent Design" shows how scientific ideas such as openness to criticism, fair play in discussion, and respect for the contingent nature of truth have become accepted standards
- Refutes the implicit premise that ID is the only valid alternative to Darwinian evolution
- Takes some of ID's arguments to the next logical step (something ID proponents seem to carefully avoid doing)
- TruthMapping: ID is not scientific and therefore does not belong in science education
- 2003-01-22 "The Quixotic Message", or "No Free Hunch": humorously-phrased IDist viewpoints on various related issues, with supporting documentation
- Ken Miller on Intelligent Design: Kenneth R. Miller, a cell biologist from Brown University and a Roman Catholic, is a firm defender of evolution; the lecture begins with a short prayer. Miller reveals huge flaws in ID and shows the hypocrisy and inconsistency of its staunchest proponents. He also goes into the Dover trial in considerable detail.
- "A War on Science" (episode of BBC's Horizon series): Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5
- If it is necessary to invoke a deity in order to explain gaps in the theory of evolution, why does ID stop there? For example, scientists are still trying to explain how galaxies are held together when the force of gravity seems to be insufficient; the current theory is that dark matter is responsible, but most scientists will admit that this theory is a bit lame. Why aren't the ID people arguing that God must be holding the galaxies together? And then there's the whole area of quantum physics... --Woozle, 17:20, 23 January 2006
- David Brin said (in Contrary Brin 2005-12-08), arguing that the repurposing of Creationism's arguments in the more scientific-sounding "Intelligent Design" guise, as cynical as it may seem, is actually a score for science:
|Take a gander at so-called "Intelligent Design." Would they have retreated so far from older "Creationism"... using every trick to dress it up in scientific-sounding and rationalist language, eschewing every reference to religion and even dropping all mention of the age of the Earth/universe (!)... if they did not realize how deeply and strongly science and enlightenment still hold attraction to the American majority?|