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Intelligent Design (ID): All viewpoints

ID's beliefs, origin, and suporting observations

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Beliefs of supporters of of Intelligent Design (ID):

There are many beliefs currently held about basic origins of the earth itself, its geological features, its life forms, and the rest of the universe. The three main ones in North America are:

  1. Creation science: This belief is taught by many of the religions of the world. There are probably about 500 variants in existence. In the version believed by most Christian, Jewish, and Muslim conservatives, the earth, its life forms and the rest of the universe are believed to have been created by God less than 10,000 years ago.

  2. Naturalistic evolution: This is the classical theory of evolution. In it, the Earth, its life forms, and the rest of the universe evolved over a period of billions of years, driven by undirected natural forces without any input from a super-normal intelligence. Most supporters of ID reject this theory, because they accept evidence that just such an intelligence exists.

  3. Theistic evolution: They evolved over a period of billions of years guided by God, who used evolution as a tool to effect change. Most supporters of ID accept this theory. In fact, ID is all about finding proof for some super-human intelligence. However, some ID'ers suggest that God may not be responsible for what we see around us. It may have been a super-intelligent life form -- some species of extra-terrestrials -- who visited earth billions of years ago, set evolution in motion,  and injected some of their own designs into various species.

Proponents of Intelligent Design (ID; a.k.a. Intelligent Design Creationism, IDC; Intelligent Design Theory, IDT, Neocreationism) assert that there are certain patterns, designs, and functions in the universe that could not have come into existence as a result of purely natural forces and processes or chance. When they come across something that they think might be intelligently designed. they apply a three-stage explanatory filter:

  1. Does a law of nature account for it? Two examples:
    bulletA perfectly balanced coin is flipped 50 times, and comes up heads 20 times.

    bulletA person buys a lottery ticket and win a million dollars.

    These observations can be explained by the laws of probability. The probability of "heads" is about one in two. The probability of winning the lottery is much smaller. But someone has to win. We need not inquire further to understand how unusual events happen..

  2. Can it be the result of chance? Two examples
    bulletA county clerk who was a Democrat determined the order in which candidates appeared on election ballots. In 40 times out of 41, a Democrat was listed first.

    bulletThe odds of even a small 100 amino acid protein of forming spontaneously has been calculated at less than 1 in 10125.

    Both of these observations seem rather improbable -- the second much more than the first. So ID supporters move on to the third and final option:

  3. Can it be designed? If neither a law nor chance can account for the observation, then they conclude that it was the result of design.

They conclude that some elements in the universe must have been specifically designed and implemented. In some cases, this leads logically to the existence of an intelligent entity with super-human ability and knowledge. By proving this, ID supporters attempt to refute a basic assumption of naturalistic evolution -- that the earth, its life forms and the rest of the universe came into existence as a result of natural forces. 

Some critics have pointed out what they feel is a fatal flaw in the logic of the three-stage filter. A fourth possibility exists: that the observation may be due to a law of nature that is currently not known or is not fully understood. For example, if the three-stage filter were applied in the 1st century CE to the movement of the sun across the sky, one would conclude neither a law of nature nor chance was involved. It must have been due to a direct or indirect intervention by God. Thus, the astronomers of the day believed that God directed angels to push the sun across the sky.

The lack of a proof by a present law is not proof that no new law exists to be found in the future.

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Origin of ID:

Many Christian theologians have argued that the presence of the universe proves the existence of God. They include Minucius Felix (3rd century CE), Basil the Great (4th c.), Moses Maimonides (12th c.), Thomas Aquinas (13th c.), Thomas Reid (18th c.), and Charles Hodge (19th c.). It remains one of the classical proofs of the existence of God. 2

The roots of the current Intelligent Design movement are found in the writings of William Paley (1743-1805). In his 1802 book: "Natural Theology ; Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. Collected from the Appearances of Nature," he used what is now a very well known analogy to prove the existence of God. 3 He argued that if a person found a watch, she/he would assume that it had been made by a watchmaker. In the same way, the internal complexity of living things proves the existence of a Creator of all life. The world itself and the rest of the universe similarly prove that a designer existed. 4 Some 184 years later, Richard Dawkins wrote a book "The Blind Watchmaker" in which he attempts to prove Paley wrong. He concludes: "All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way... it is the blind watchmaker." 5

The current Intelligent Design movement began "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'  Among the first books in ID were:

bulletCharles Thaxton et al., "The Mystery of Life's Origin" (1984)

bulletMichael Denton, "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis" (1986).

More recently, scholars like Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, Paul Nelson, Jonathan Wells, and...[William Dembski] have taken the next step, proposing a positive research program wherein intelligent causes become the key for understanding the diversity and complexity of life." 2

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Observations supporting ID:

The Center for Renewal of Science and Culture points to the following phenomena as indicators of intelligent design in the universe:

bullet Most cosmologists accept the "Big Bang" theory -- that the universe suddenly came into existence in one location, -- "including all matter, space, time, and energy." 6 That is, at the time of the Big Bang, it did not materialize in one corner of the universe; the Big Bang occupied the totality of the universe at that time. ID promoters feel that this is what one would expect from an act of creation by a deity. In contrast, believers in naturalistic evolution feel that this could also happen from purely natural forces and processes governed by quantum mechanics.

bullet

The universe appears to be "finely-tuned" 6 for the existence of life. If some of the basic constants of the universe were different from their present values, then star formation, and the life itself would have been impossible. This suggests the existence of a tuner -- i.e. a creator. To test this hypothesis, a supporter of naturalistic evolution, V.J. Stenger, constructed mathematical models of 100 "toy" universes, using randomly varied physical constants. He found that:

"... almost all combinations of physical constants lead to universes, albeit strange ones, that would live long enough for some type of complexity to form. In well over half the universes, stars live at least a billion years." 7 

Other cosmologists have developed models of multiple universes continually appearing. Sooner or later, one of these universes would have been conducive to the evolution of life; ours is apparently one of them.


bullet"...the presence of complex and functionally integrated machines has cast doubt on Darwinian mechanisms of self-assembly..." 6 They suggest that cells, certain organs, and certain functions (like blood clotting) in animals, could not have come into existence through many chance intermediate steps, but must have been fully formed at one time. For example, a human eye requires many sub-systems to be in place before it can function. This includes a lens, a transparent medium, a retina, an optic nerve and structures within the brain to decode images. When all are present, the eye works superbly. If one were missing, the eye would not work at all. Thus, they reason, the eye must have suddenly appeared with all its sub-systems fully developed and functional. According to natural selection -- the foundational principle of evolution -- a lens would be useless without all of the other components. It could not have been developed first, followed by the remaining components. To ID supporters, that implies a design and a designer. Believers in naturalistic evolution have countered this argument by suggesting a path by which they believe an eye could have developed through natural selection.

bulletThey feel that information "encoded along the DNA molecule has suggested the activity of a prior designing intelligence." 5 Supporters of naturalistic evolution point out to the large amount of junk DNA in humans and other animals which points to random development.

bulletThey point to two persistent problems in artificial intelligence (AI) research which suggest "a fundamental chasm separating machine intelligence and the human mind." 6 This suggests that the human mind could not have simply evolved. It must have been specially created by a super-human intelligence -- perhaps by a God -- and put in place. Other scientists point out that the science of AI is in its infancy, and that this "fundamental chasm" will be bridged in time.

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References used:

  1. William A. Dembski, Ed., "Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design," InterVarsity Press, (1998), Page 94.
  2. William Dembski, "The Intelligent Design Movement," Cosmic Pursuit, 1998-Spring. Online at: http://www.origins.org/
  3. William Paley, "Natural Theology ; Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. Collected from the Appearances of Nature," This book is occasionally available from the Amazon.com online book store
  4. Creationists hit capitol hill for congressional briefing," at: http://www.atheists.org/
  5. Richard Dawkins, "The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design," Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  6. "About CRSC: Life after Materialism," at: http://www.discovery.org/
  7. Victor J. Stenger, "Intelligent design: Humans, cockroaches and the laws of physics," at: http://www.talkorigins.org/

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Copyright 2001 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JAN
Latest update: 2013-SEP-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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