Intelligent design asserts that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause.” It is a modern form of the traditional teleological argument for the existence of God that avoids specifying the nature or identity of the designer. Intelligent design’s leading proponents believe the designer to be the God of Christianity.
Advocates of Intelligent Design argue that it is a scientific theory, and ask science to accept supernatural explanations. The consensus in the scientific community is that “Intelligent Design” is not science. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has stated that “creationism, Intelligent Design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science, because they are not testable by the methods of science.” The “U.S. National Science Teachers Association” and the “American Association for the Advancement of Science” have termed it pseudoscience. Some have called it “junk science”.
7.1.2 Origins of the concept
Whether the complexity of nature indicates purposeful design is a philosophical discourse dating back to ancient Greek philosophy. In the 4th century BC, Plato suggested that “a good and wise demiurge was the creator and first cause of the cosmos” in his “Timaeus”. In his “Metaphysics”, Aristotle developed the idea of an “Unmoved Mover”. In “De Natura Deorum” (“On the Nature of the Gods”, 45 BC) Cicero stated that “the divine power is to be found in a principle of reason which pervades the whole of nature.” The most notable forms of this same argument were expressed in the 13th century by Thomas Aquinas and in the 19th century by William Paley. Aquinas, in his “Summa Theologiae”, used the concept of design in his “fifth proof” for God’s existence. Paley, in “Natural Theology” (1802), used the watchmaker analogy.
In the early 19th century, such arguments led to the development of what was called natural theology, the study of nature as a means to understand “the mind of God”. Similar reasoning postulating a divine designer is embraced today by many believers in theistic evolution, who consider modern science and the theory of evolution to be fully compatible with the concept of a supernatural designer.
Intelligent design in the late 20th and early 21st century is seen as a development of natural theology that seeks to undermine evolutionary theory. They claim that “complex systems imply a designer”. Past examples have included the eye and the feathered wing; current examples are typically biochemical: protein functions, blood clotting, and bacterial flagella.
The Intelligent Design movement began in 1984 when Jon A. Buell’s religious organization, the “Foundation for Thought and Ethics” (FTE) published “The Mystery of Life’s Origin” by creationist and chemist Charles B. Thaxton, which holds “that the source that produced life was intelligent”. In 1986 Stephen C. Meyer’s suggested that messages transmitted by DNA in the cell show “specified complexity” that must have originated with an intelligent agent. At the “Sources of Information Content” in DNA conference in 1988 he said that his intelligent cause view was compatible with both metaphysical naturalism and supernaturalism, and the term Intelligent Design came up.
Although Intelligent Design does not name the designer, the leaders of the Intelligent Design movement have said that the designer is the Christian God.
In 1987 the US Supreme Court again ruled, this time in Edwards v. Aguillard, that requiring the teaching of “creation science” every time evolution was taught illegally advanced a particular religion. The court gave a clear definition of science, and further ruled that so-called “creation science” was simply creationism.
In 1989 the “Foundation for Thought and Ethics” published “Of Pandas and People” by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon, defines that “Intelligent Design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact”. After court setbacks, it focused its efforts “outside the schools” to prompt grass-roots activity from local school boards, teacher’s groups and parents.
In 1990, law professor Phillip E. Johnson said that the ground rules of science, as presented at Edwards v. Aguillard, unfairly disqualified creationist explanations by excluding the supernatural. In 1991 he wrote “Darwin on Trial”, challenging the principles of naturalism and uniformitarianism in contemporary scientific philosophy.
In March 1992 a symposium at Southern Methodist University in Dallas provided the public debut for the small group including Phillip Johnson, Steven Meyer, William Dembski and Michael Behe. The 1993 second edition of the school textbook Of “Pandas and People” added a section by Michael Behe making the argument known as “irreducible complexity”.
In 1994 the movement “Answers in Genesis” expanded from Australia and New Zealand to the United States and later on into the United Kingdom, Canada, and South Africa. It remains a small movement in the latter three nations.
In 1996, the “Discovery Institute’s Centre for Science and Culture” (CSC), was founded to promote Intelligent design. It published “Darwin’s Black Box” by Michael Behe, arguing for evidence of Irreducible Complexity. This was an attempt to promote creationism. The Discovery Institute rejects the term “creationism” which it defines narrowly as meaning young earth creationism, though in court Intelligent Design was found to be creationism.
In 1996, Pope John Paul II stated that “new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis”, but, referring to previous papal writings, concluded that “if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God.”
In October 1999 the “Michael Polanyi Centre” was founded in the science faculty of Baylor University, a Baptist college, to study Intelligent Design. It was disbanded one year later amidst faculty complaints that it would cause the school to be associated with pseudoscience.
In December 2001, the United States Congress passed the “No Child Left Behind Act”, which contained the following statement of policy, called the Santorum Amendment:
“The Conferees recognize that a quality scientific education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.”
In December 2001, Dembski established the “International Society for Complexity, Information and Design”.
In 2004 Ohio adopted education standards sympathetic to Intelligent Design promoted by the Discovery Institute. In February 2006 the Ohio Board of Education voted to drop the Discovery Institute’s “Critical Analysis of Evolution”, an Intelligent Design lesson plan, after the 2005 ruling against Intelligent Design in Kitzmiller v. Dover and revelations that the lesson plan was adopted despite warnings from the Ohio Department of Education, whose experts described it as wrong and misleading.
In May 2005, the Kansas school board held the “Kansas evolution hearings”. They were promoted by the Discovery Institute and attended by its Fellows and other Intelligent Design advocates, but not by mainstream scientists. The conclusions adopted by the Republican-dominated “board of new science standards” were based upon the Discovery Institute’s “Critical Analysis of Evolution” lesson plan employing the institute’s “Teach the Controversy approach”. This approach had been rejected before by the “State Board Science Hearing Committee”. With the 2006 ouster of the majority of the conservative board members, the Kansas State Board of Education approved a new curriculum which removed any reference to Intelligent Design as part of science in February 2007.
In 2005, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled on the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District that Intelligent Design was religious in nature, a form of creationism, not scientific and thus violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The ruling barred the teaching of Intelligent Design in public school science classrooms for that district.
Around the same time as the Kiztmiller ruling, many state legislators were considering bills promoted by the Discovery Institute supporting the teaching of Intelligent Design. Most were rejected in the light of the ruling in Dover trial out of what has been called the “Dover-effect.”