January 3, 2006

What is "Intelligent Design?" - It depends upon who you ask

“Intelligent design, I am afraid, is in danger of becoming a contemporary Rorschach test. Everyone in the media and all those bloggers seems to have his own interpretation of ID and each and every opiner thinks he really knows exactly what he is talking about.”
So charged Bruce Chapman of the Discovery Institute back in August of 2005. Apparently some of the Discovery Institute scientists were positively apoplectic over the benighted ignorance shown by the media and “those bloggers.” Chapman was not alone in his dismay. Fellow ID proponent and DI colleague John West wrote in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
“If foes are guilty of misappropriating intelligent design, however, so are some of its newfound friends.
As intelligent design has become a household term, a few well-meaning but misguided public officials have conflated the theory of design with creationism or tried to impose it by legislation.”
I guess a lot of people are getting this ID thing all bollixed up (why, just look at the amount of complaining the DI does about it). Ever the helpful sort, I decided the best way to set the record straight on exactly what “Intelligent Design” is would be to let the “theorists” and proponents speak for themselves.

Ready? Here we go,


Michael Behe
"By “intelligent design” I mean to imply design beyond the laws of nature. – Philosophical Objections to Intelligent Design

"It could have all been programmed into the universe as far as I'm concerned," he said. But it was also possible, Dr. Behe added, that a designer acted continually throughout the history of life.” - In Explaining Life's Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash, NY Times

“On the next slide is a short summary of the intelligent design argument. The first point is that, we infer design when we see that parts appear to be arranged for a purpose. The second point is that the strength of the inference, how confident we are in it, is quantitative. The more parts that are arranged, and the more intricately they interact, the stronger is our confidence in design. The third point is that the appearance of design in aspects of biology is overwhelming. The fourth point then is that, since nothing other than an intelligent cause has been demonstrated to be able to yield such a strong appearance of design, Darwinian claims notwithstanding, the conclusion that the design seen in life is real design is rationally justified.” – Testimony, Kitzmiller vs. DASB

William Dembski
“Intelligent Design properly formulated is a theory of information. Within such a theory, information becomes a reliable indicator of intelligent causation as well as a proper object for scientific investigation. Intelligent Design thereby becomes a theory for detecting and measuring information, explaining its origin and tracing its flow. Intelligent Design is not the study of intelligent causes per se but of informational pathways induced by intelligent causes.” – Detecting Design in the Natural Sciences

"Intelligent design is a theory for making sense of intelligent causes. As such, intelligent design formalizes and makes precise something we do all the time. All of us are all the time engaged in a form of rational activity that, without being tendentious, can be described as inferring design. Inferring design is a common and well-accepted human activity...There is no magic, no vitalism, no appeal to occult forces. Inferring design is common, rational and objectifiable." – Mere Creations

“Intelligent design is the field of study that investigates signs of intelligence. It identifies those features of objects that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause.” - In Defense of Intelligent Design

“ID is three things:
1. A scientific research program that investigates the effects of intelligent causes
2. An intellectual movement that challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy
3. A way of understanding divine action.” – Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology

Jay Richards
“ID is not a deduction from religious dogma or scripture. It’s simply the argument that certain features of the natural world-from miniature machines and digital information found in living cells, to the fine-tuning of physical constants-are best explained as the result of an intelligent cause.
Much more can be said, of course. For instance, ID so defined is a tacit rebuke of an idea inherited from the 19th century, called scientific materialism, as well as its more unassuming cousin, methodological materialism. And although ID doesn’t require theological presuppositions, it has theological implications. In that way, it is like Darwinism.” – What Intelligent Design Is—and Isn't

Jonathan Wells
“Intelligent design theory holds that some features of the universe, including some features of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than undirected natural causes such as variation of selection.” - Uncommon Knowledge (Monkey Business)

Jonathan Witt
“[ID is]…a theory that goes beyond biology to argue that design is the best explanation for things like the fine tuning of the physical constants of nature for life.” – Open Source Sniffing Around the Controversy


Design theory—also called design or the design argument—is the view that nature shows tangible signs of having been designed by a preexisting intelligence. It has been around, in one form or another, since the time of ancient Greece. – What is Intelligent Design?

Discovery Institute
The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. – Questions about Intelligent Design

Intelligent design theory 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. - Questions about Intelligent Design

Intelligent design is the science that studies how to detect intelligence. Recall astronomer Carl Sagan’s novel Contact about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (or SETI). Sagan based the SETI researchers’ methods of design detection on scientific practice. Real-life SETI researchers have thus far failed to detect designed signals from distant space. But if they encountered such a signal, as the astronomers in Sagan’s novel did, they too would infer design. Intelligent design research currently focuses on developing reliable methods of design detection and then applying these methods, especially to biological systems.

IDEA Center
The Short Answer: Intelligent design is a scientific theory which seeks to determine if some objects in the natural world were designed through recognizing and detecting the types of information known to be produced by the intelligent agents when they act. – FAQ: What is intelligent design theory?

The Long Answer: Intelligent design is a scientific theory which holds that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, and are not the result of an undirected, chance-based process such as Darwinian evolution. Intelligent design begins with observations about the types of information produced by intelligent agents. Even the atheist zoologist Richard Dawkins says that intuitively, "[b]iology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." Darwinists believe natural selection did the "designing" but intelligent design theorist Stephen C. Meyer notes, "in all cases where we know the causal origin of 'high information content,' experience has shown that intelligent design played a causal role." Intelligent design is thus heavily dependent upon "information theory." One of its fundamental premises is that "information" which is complex (highly ordered) and specified (fits a pre-existing pattern) is not produced by naturally occurring events (chance or law-governed processes), but rather this sort of observable information and complexity is best explained as the product of intelligent action. Intelligent design implies that life is here as a result of the purposeful action of an intelligent designer, standing in contrast to Darwinian evolution, which postulates that life exists due to the chance, purposeless, blind forces of nature. - What is intelligent design theory?

Intelligent Design Network
The theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. ID is thus a scientific disagreement with the core claim of evolutionary theory that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion.

Intelligent Design is an intellectual movement that includes a scientific research program for investigating intelligent causes and that challenges naturalistic explanations of origins which currently drive science education and research.

Well, that should clear up all the confusion. “Intelligent Design” is a theory, an argument, an inference, a field of study, a research program and a movement.

While ID is about “design beyond the laws of nature,” and is a “way of understanding divine action” one must keep in mind that it is not an “appeal to occult forces” nor is it “a deduction from religious dogma or scripture.”

Remember also that design theory is a quantitative argument regarding the purposeful arrangement of biological parts and an attempt to detect, measure and explain the origin and flow of information. Or, it could've "all been programmed into the universe" at the beginning leaving the foregoing moot.

Perhaps most important, it should be understood that although ID is certainly a science and a scientific research program (like SETI), it is definitely committed to rebuking scientific and methodological materialism as well as “Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy” (unlike SETI). This is due to the fact that while “virtually all biologists” recognize design in nature, they are misled (virtually all of them!) into thinking it is only apparent design by these outmoded 19th century ideas (materialism and naturalism).

Oh, and by the way, design theory has been around since the time of ancient Greece, but it is not outmoded.

Any questions?


Blogger Daniel said...

If the "design theorists" themselves would clarify exactly what ID "theory" is, of course, we wouldn't be in the ambiguous guessing game within the blogosphere. As it stands, the definition on their website that, "certain features of the universe...are best explained by an intelligent cause"...leaves us all guessing.

And, as you chronicled in excellent form, the definitions the fellows give in their books and speaking engagements are often at odds.

Some IDers advocate common descent, and some, by advocating irreducible complexity, appear doubleminded. Many IDers are just YEC or OEC molded over and dressed in new verbage.

The most "scientific" hope they have is irreducible complexity and their "design inference", both of which have been thoroughly demolished by the scientific community at large.

WHen they make claims that ID includes the fine-tuning of the universe, it is obvious they have "Freudian slipped" the identity of their designer: god (as if we all didn't know it). What "natural" being has the power to tune physical constants of the universe? Further, why would they seek "the overthrow of materialism" (Wedge) if they believe the designer is made of MATTER???

5:19 AM  

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