Intelligent Design The Definitive Source on ID

Introduction to the Scientific Theory of Intelligent Design


Author’s note: This introductory article on intelligent design first appeared June 19 in Polish at Fundacja En Arche’s ID website.

To understand the origins of the modern intelligent design movement, you must first understand that Darwin’s implausible explanation for evolution has become more and more implausible with every new biological and biochemical discovery, and that there never has been a plausible natural explanation for the origin of life on Earth. Here are some useful places to start, to understand this. One is this article by David Klinghoffer which reviews a June 2022 article in The Guardian entitled “Do we need a new theory of evolution?” My own 2000 opinion piece in The Mathematical IntelligencerA Mathematician’s View of Evolution,” and the video “Why Evolution Is Different,” may also be useful. 

The second thing you need to understand is that for many years the scientific establishment has insisted that no matter how implausible Darwin’s explanation might have become, the alternative of design cannot be considered because it is a religious idea. And for many years, most public challenges to Darwinism were in fact attempts to force science to fit a literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. In the first creation-evolution debate I ever attended, in the 1970s, the creationist spent much of his time arguing for a young Earth, as though that were the main issue.

Good Logic, Good Science

But toward the end of the last century a few scientists (biochemist Michael Behe and geneticist Wolf-Ekkehard Lӧnnig, for example) began to argue that it has become so obvious that life cannot be explained without design that “intelligent design” has to finally be taken seriously in the scientific world. While other religious beliefs based on the Bible or our experience or intuition may not be science, the conclusion that there must be a designer behind living things is just good logic and thus good science, even if science alone cannot tell us who designed life, or how. If scientists can spend time and money developing tools and algorithms to detect dubious signs of extraterrestrial intelligence in weak signals from outer space, why are they required to ignore the evidence in living cells where design practically leaps out at you?

Evolution Is Different 

Of course, normally if a scientific theory for some observed phenomenon fails, we just look for an alternative “natural” theory. But what has long been obvious to the layman is finally becoming clear to many scientists, that evolution is different. We are not talking now about explaining earthquakes or comets or volcanos, we are talking about explaining hearts and lungs and eyes and ears. How many theories without design can there be for the origin of circulatory systems, nervous systems, and human brains? Design has finally started to be taken seriously by scientists not because there are minor problems with Darwin’s explanation, but because it has become absurdly, blindingly obvious that neither it nor any other theory that ignores design will ever completely explain living things. Contrary to common belief, science really has no reasonable alternative to design to explain either the origin or evolution of life. In fact, we really have no idea how living things are able to pass their current complex structures on to their descendants without significant degradation, generation after generation, much less how they evolve even more complex structures. 

If you look closely, you will notice that all the most persuasive arguments used to reject design are not of the form “here is a reasonable theory on how it could have happened without design” but rather “this doesn’t look like the way God would have done things,” an argument used frequently by Darwin himself. In the debate I mentioned earlier, the evolutionist spent much of his time showing dozens of beetle species, sarcastically concluding “God must really like beetles.” Well, I’ll admit I might not have predicted God would design so many species of beetles and there are other things about the history of life on Earth — the long times involved, for example — that to our minds seem to suggest natural causes, but no clue as to how it could have all happened without design. 

In the 2000 Mathematical Intelligencer piece (highlighted in the video “A Mathematician’s View of Evolution”) I compared the history of my partial differential equation software to the history of life, noting that there are large jumps in both where major new features appear, for the same reasons: gradual development of the new organs or new systems of organs that gave rise to new orders, classes, and phyla would require the development of new but not yet useful features. So, Darwinism could not explain the development of these new features even if they did occur gradually — and, according to the fossil record, they don’t. But I have always felt that the strongest argument for design is simply to state clearly what you have to believe to NOT believe in intelligent design, and I closed the article with this:

I imagine visiting the Earth when it was young and returning now to find highways with automobiles on them, airports with jet airplanes, and tall buildings full of complicated equipment, such as televisions, telephones and computers. Then I imagine the construction of a gigantic computer model which starts with the initial conditions on Earth 4 billion years ago and tries to simulate the effects that the four known forces of physics (the gravitational, electromagnetic and strong and weak nuclear forces) would have on every atom and every subatomic particle on our planet (perhaps using random number generators to model quantum uncertainties!). 

If we ran such a simulation out to the present day, would it predict that the basic forces of Nature would reorganize the basic particles of Nature into libraries full of encyclopedias, science texts and novels, nuclear power plants, aircraft carriers with supersonic jets parked on deck, and computers connected to laser printers, CRTs, and keyboards? If we graphically displayed the positions of the atoms at the end of the simulation, would we find that cars and trucks had formed, or that supercomputers had arisen? Certainly we would not, and I do not believe that adding sunlight to the model would help much. Clearly something extremely improbable has happened here on our planet, with the origin and development of life, and especially with the development of human consciousness and creativity.

Not a Real Physical Force 

Of course, constructing such a model is impossible, but I thought imagining it was a useful exercise to get across the point that natural selection, the one unintelligent force in the universe widely credited with the ability to create spectacular order out of disorder, is not a real physical force and cannot be included in the simulation, and the point that unintelligent forces cannot explain human intelligence. Rice University chemist James Tour makes a similar point regarding the origin of life: “Molecules don’t care about life.”

Furthermore, even many of the scientists who insist that everything must be explained in terms of the unintelligent laws of nature alone have been forced by the evidence uncovered in the last half century to accept that design is required to explain the spectacular fine-tuning for life of the laws and constants of physics themselves. These scientists are sometimes considered to be intelligent design supporters as well. One of the three discoveries discussed in Stephen Meyer’s book Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries that Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe is this well-documented fine-tuning. Notice the long list of distinguished scientists who have formally endorsed the book, including physics Nobel Prize-winner Brian Josephson who writes, “This book makes it clear that far from being an unscientific claim, intelligent design is valid science.”

Granville Sewell

Granville Sewell is an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Texas El Paso. He has written four books on numerical analysis, most recently Solving Partial Differential Equation Applications with PDE2D, John Wiley, 2018. In addition to his years at UTEP, has been employed by Universidad Simon Bolivar (Caracas), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Purdue University, IMSL Inc., The University of Texas Center for High Performance Computing and Texas A&M University, and spent a semester (1999) at Universidad Nacional de Tucuman on a Fulbright scholarship, and another semester (2019) at the UNAM Centro de Geociencas in Queretaro, Mexico.