to Darwinism, undirected natural causes are solely responsible for the origin
and development of life. In particular, Darwinism rules out the possibility
of God or any guiding intelligence playing a role in life's origin and
development. Within western culture Darwinism's ascent has been truly
meteoric. And yet throughout its ascent there have always been dissenters who
regarded as inadequate the Darwinian vision that undirected natural causes
could produce the full diversity and complexity of life.
Until the mid 1980s this dissent was sporadic, focused largely at the grass
roots, and seeking mainly to influence public opinion through the courts (and
not very effectively at that). With the Intelligent Design movement this
dissent has now become focused, promising to overturn the cultural dominance
of Darwinism much as the freedom movements in eastern Europe overturned the
political dominance of Marxism at the end of the 1980s.
The Intelligent Design movement begins with the work of Charles Thaxton,
Walter Bradley, Michael Denton, Dean Kenyon, and Phillip Johnson. Without
employing the Bible as a scientific text, these scholars critiqued Darwinism
on scientific and philosophical grounds. On scientific grounds they found
Darwinism an inadequate framework for biology. On philosophical grounds they
found Darwinism hopelessly entangled with naturalism, the view that nature is
self-sufficient and thus without need of God or any guiding intelligence.
More recently, scholars like Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, Paul Nelson,
Jonathan Wells, and myself have taken the next step, proposing a positive
research program wherein intelligent causes become the key for understanding
the diversity and complexity of life.
Through this two-pronged approach of critiquing Darwinism on the one hand and
providing a positive alternative on the other, the Intelligent Design
movement has rapidly gained adherents among the best and brightest in the
academy. Already it is responsible for Darwinism losing its corner on the
intellectual market. If fully successful, Intelligent Design will unseat not
just Darwinism but also Darwinism's cultural legacy. And since no aspect of
western culture has escaped Darwinism's influence, so no aspect of western
culture will escape reevaluation in the light of Intelligent Design.
What then is Intelligent Design? Intelligent Design begins with the
observation that intelligent causes can do things which undirected natural
causes cannot. Undirected natural causes can place scrabble pieces on a
board, but cannot arrange the pieces as meaningful words or sentences. To
obtain a meaningful arrangement requires an intelligent cause. This
intuition, that there is a fundamental distinction between undirected natural
causes on the one hand and intelligent causes on the other, has underlain the
design arguments of past centuries.
Throughout the centuries theologians have argued that nature exhibits
features which nature itself cannot explain, but which instead require an
intelligence over and above nature. From Church fathers like Minucius Felix
and Basil the Great (3rd and 4th centuries) to medieval scholastics like
Moses Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas (12th and 13th centuries) to reformed
thinkers like Thomas Reid and Charles Hodge (18th and 19th centuries), we
find theologians making design arguments, arguing from the data of nature to
an intelligence operating over and above nature.
Design arguments are old hat. Indeed, design arguments continue to be a
staple of philosophy and religion courses. The most famous of the design
arguments is William Paley's watchmaker argument (as in Paley's Natural
Theology, published 1802). According to Paley, if we find a watch in a
field, the watch's adaptation of means to ends (that is, the adaptation of
its parts to telling time) ensure that it is the product of an intelligence,
and not simply the output of undirected natural processes. So too, the
marvelous adaptations of means to ends in organisms, whether at the level of
whole organisms, or at the level of various subsystems (Paley focused
especially on the mammalian eye), ensure that organisms are the product of an
Though intuitively appealing, Paley's argument had until recently fallen into
disuse. This is now changing. In the last five years design has witnessed an
explosive resurgence. Scientists are beginning to realize that design can be
rigorously formulated as a scientific theory. What has kept design outside
the scientific mainstream these last hundred and thirty years is the absence
of precise methods for distinguishing intelligently caused objects from
unintelligently caused ones. For design to be a fruitful scientific concept,
scientists have to be sure they can reliably determine whether something is
Johannes Kepler thought the craters on the moon were intelligently designed
by moon dwellers. We now know that the craters were formed naturally. It's
this fear of falsely attributing something to design only to have it
overturned later that has prevented design from entering science proper. With
precise methods for discriminating intelligently from unintelligently caused
objects, scientists are now able to avoid Kepler's mistake.
What has emerged is a new program for scientific research known as
Intelligent Design. Within biology, Intelligent Design is a theory of
biological origins and development. Its fundamental claim is that intelligent
causes are necessary to explain the complex, information-rich structures of
biology, and that these causes are empirically detectable.
To say intelligent causes are empirically detectable is to say there exist
well-defined methods that, on the basis of observational features of the
world, are capable of reliably distinguishing intelligent causes from
undirected natural causes. Many special sciences have already developed such
methods for drawing this distinction-notably forensic science, cryptography,
archeology, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (as in the movie
Whenever these methods detect intelligent causation, the underlying entity
they uncover is information. 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 therefore not the study of intelligent causes per se,
but of informational pathways induced by intelligent causes.
As a result, Intelligent Design presupposes neither a creator nor miracles.
Intelligent Design is theologically minimalist. It detects intelligence
without speculating about the nature of the intelligence. Biochemist Michael
Behe's "irreducible complexity," physicist David Bohm's
"active information," mathematician Marcel Schützenberger's
"functional complexity," and my own "complex specified
information" are alternate routes to the same reality.
It is the empirical detectability of intelligent causes that renders
Intelligent Design a fully scientific theory, and distinguishes it from the
design arguments of philosophers, or what has traditionally been called
"natural theology." The world contains events, objects, and
structures which exhaust the explanatory resources of undirected natural
causes, and which can be adequately explained only by recourse to intelligent
causes. Scientists are now in a position to demonstrate this rigorously. Thus
what has been a long-standing philosophical intuition is now being cashed out
as a scientific research program.
Intelligent Design entails that naturalism in all forms be rejected.
Metaphysical naturalism, the view that undirected natural causes wholly
govern the world, is to be rejected because it is false. Methodological
naturalism, the view that for the sake of science, scientific explanation
ought never exceed undirected natural causes, is to be rejected because it
stifles inquiry. Nothing is gained by pretending science can get along
without intelligent causes. Rather, because intelligent causes are
empirically detectable, science must ever remain open to evidence of their
Where does this leave special creation and theistic evolution? Logically
speaking, Intelligent Design is compatible with everything from the starkest
creationism (i.e., God intervening at every point to create new species) to
the most subtle and far-ranging evolution (i.e., God seamlessly melding all
organisms together in a great tree of life). For Intelligent Design the first
question is not how organisms came to be (though this is a research question
that needs to be addressed), but whether they demonstrate clear, empirically
detectable marks of being intelligently caused. In principle, an evolutionary
process can exhibit such "marks of intelligence" as much as any act
of special creation.
If you're a Christian, what is the theological payoff of Intelligent Design?
It is important to realize that Intelligent Design is not an apologetic ploy
to cajole people into God's Kingdom. Intelligent Design is a scientific
That said, Intelligent Design does have implications for theology. The most
severe challenge to theology over the last two hundred years has been
naturalism. Within western culture, naturalism has become the default
position for all serious inquiry. From biblical studies to law to education
to art to science to the media, inquiry is expected to proceed only under the
supposition of naturalism.
C. S. Lewis put it this way:
Naturalistic assumptions ... meet you on every side.... It comes partly from
what we may call a "hangover." We all have Naturalism in our bones
and even conversion does not at once work the infection out of our system.
Its assumptions rush back upon the mind the moment vigilance is relaxed.
(quoted from Miracles)
By making the design in nature evident, Intelligent Design promises to cure
western culture of this unfortunate Enlightenment hangover. Indeed,
Intelligent Design provides the clearest refutation of naturalism to date.
Naturalism looks to science to justify its rejection of purpose in nature.
Intelligent Design shows that naturalism fails on its own terms. To be sure,
there are good philosophical reasons for rejecting naturalism-the very
existence of the world and the intelligibility of the world raise questions
which science cannot answer, and which point beyond the world. Intelligent
Design shows there are also good scientific reasons for rejecting naturalism.
For Further Study:
The Intelligent Design movement begins with the publication of The Mystery
of Life's Origin by Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olson
(Philosophical Library, 1984) and Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by
Michael Denton (Alder & Adler, 1986). These two books presented a
powerful scientific critique of evolutionary theory. Moreover, they set the
tone for subsequent publications by refusing to mix the scientific evidence
for design with theological views about creation.
The next key text in the movement was Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial
(InterVarsity, 1991). Johnson not only reviewed the scientific evidence
against evolutionary theory, but also showed how evolutionary theory was
hopelessly compromised with naturalism. Johnson continued his analysis in Reason
in the Balance (InterVarsity, 1995) and Defeating Darwinism by Opening
Minds (InterVarsity, 1997).
Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis's Of Pandas and People (Haughton, 1993)
and J. P. Moreland's Creation Hypothesis (InterVarsity, 1994) proved
transitional texts. Whereas previous texts criticized evolutionary theory
without offering a positive alternative, these texts began examining what a
design-theoretic alternative to evolutionary theory would look like.
With the publication of Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box (Free Press,
1996) the dam burst. Here for the first time were the outlines of a
full-fledged scientific research program for design in biology. Behe's book
was reviewed everywhere from Science and Nature to the New
York Times and the Wall Street Journal. It was voted Christianity
Today's "Book of the Year." Its impact has been phenomenal.
My own The Design Inference (Cambridge) and Mere Creation:
Reclaiming the Book of Nature (InterVarsity) will appear fall of 1998.
Key researchers with books in preparation include Stephen Meyer, Paul Nelson,
Del Ratzsch, John Mark Reynolds, and John Wells. The movement has a
professional journal entitled Origins & Design (www.arn.org/arn).
The Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture
coordinates many of its efforts (www.discovery.org).