Why Intelligent Design Must Be Religious
Forget the science, Intelligent Design (ID) proponents don’t do actual science anyway. Forget the math, ID math is useless or wrong anyway. Let’s just look at how ID looks at the world for a few minutes.
The notion of Intelligent Design is that something in the known universe is so complex that it requires a designer. The designer is an intelligent agent of some kind. According to ID proponents, the designer is unknown and perhaps unknowable. Although, in order to prevent ID from falling under the guise of religion, which the ID proponents have singularly failed to accomplish, they occasionally posit other designers that have the knowledge and ability to act in certain areas. I have not ever seen an ID proponent posit multiple designers, but there’s no intrinsic reason that they couldn’t. To help the ID folks, I will cover that as well.
In each section, I will attempt to cover all the possibilities and show that following them to the next logical steps results in ID being, at best, utterly useless or, at worst, so fraught with inconsistencies, that any thinking person could only follow ID through blind devotion.
Who is the Designer?
This is, to everyone but an ID proponent, the ultimate question. ID proponents just can’t see why this question matters. They see that archaeologists use design principles in their work. What they don’t realize is that knowledge of the designer is critical to archeology. For example, what if someone brought you a 2000 year-old clay water vase used by Eskimos? Your knowledge of the designers (Eskimos) would tell you that it was a fake. Eskimos have no clay and no kilns to make vases. Sure, it’s possible that Eskimos might have vases, but it’s unlikely based on what we know of them as a group.
Actually, the ID proponent can see where this question is extremely important, but for political reasons must attempt to hide it. All of the leading figures in the ID movement have publicly stated that Intelligent Design is the Judeo Christian Religion. Here are some examples:
“The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western Civilization was built.” Pg.1
“To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.” Pg 4, second goal
A few more examples will suffice for our purposes here.
Philip Johnson, “The sad story is that denying the true God is often the starting point for human wisdom. We do not wish to honor the true God, and so we turn from the creator to created things, including idols of the mind like the theory of evolution.”
The response to these quotes should be exactly the same as the response to Richard Dawkins statement that (paraphrase) “evolution allows one to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”. The response is,” a person can have opinions about a topic and there can be a reality about the same topic and the two don’t have to be the same”. On the other hand, Dawkins didn’t discover evolution. In fact, as far as scientific research is concerned, Dawkins is rather small fry. Dembski, Johnson, Wells, Meyer, Behe are considered the inventors of the modern notions of Intelligent Design. One would think that they would know what it is meant to be.
Evolution and cosmology do not, in their definitions or methods or mechanisms, posit any philosophical premise. They are purely mechanistic principles. Intelligent Design is not. In fact, Behe has stated, “I don’t have a mechanism to substitute for the Darwinian mechanism, that’s true.”
Intelligent Design is purely philosophical and even fails at that, as we shall see. Now, let’s consider the designer.
First, there needs to be a consistent notion of ID. Obviously, if one of the designers can’t perform a particular act, then either the stated designer or the stated design is wrong. Unfortunately, there are as many designers and objects of design as there are ID proponents.
I have personally held a conversation with two ID proponents, on the same thread, where they refused to engage each other. One was arguing solely for the designer being involved in biological systems and the other was requiring that we consider the designer also constructing the entire universe. Obviously one of these cannot be true if the other is true, but they refused to even acknowledge each other.
ID Proponents really need to get together and decide what ID actually is before trying to get it taught in schools.
I have heard ‘God’ as the designer. I have heard ‘aliens’ as the designer. I have heard time-traveling cell-biologists as the designer. I have heard that we are all living in a simulation with some researcher as the designer.
I have also heard it said, “We don’t have to know the designer.” I believe that this was Behe from the Dover trial, but can’t find the reference. Unfortunately, if we don’t know the designer, then we don’t know the limits of what the designer can do and we can’t investigate the existence or non-existence of the designer. If we don’t know the designer, then one could say anything about the designer and the designed.
Of course, that last statement is exactly what the ID proponents want. They want a designer that they can claim to be God in certain circles (Touchstone Magazine, church audiences) and then they can claim that it is not God under other circles (testimony in court or political committees).
So, how can we determine who the designer is if we can’t even figure out what the designer is? Maybe we can consider all the possibilities and think about them logically. We must consider these broadly, because even ID proponents can’t give us any details.
I see three possible designers:
1) a deity or deity-like entity
2) a physical, non-deity-like entity
Let’s start with the last one. If the designer is unknowable, then it doesn’t matter. We can never know the designer and can therefore never put limits, investigate, or anything else about the designer. In this case, we can only muddle along as best we can and hope the designer doesn’t decide to change the laws of physics on us at some random time.
What if the designer is a deity or deity-like entity? First, let’s define this. This entity(ies) must have sufficient knowledge and power to generate a universe. I make no claim to whether this is hyper-advanced technology, magic, or even a simulation written by a fourteen-year-old for a science fair. In effect this deity or deity-like organism has abilities that are so far beyond us that they are indistinguishable from magic (with apologies to Arthur C. Clarke). In any case, the effect is the same, a deity.
This particular designer would be the only one that could be the designer responsible for the universe. If this is not true, then we are stuck looking for the ultimate designer (I’m not getting too deep into the ‘who designed the designer’ paradox, but it is an issue worth thinking about).
Of course, with this level of technology and power, then we must consider a variety of other things and we will do so in the next section.
What if the designer is not a deity? That is, the designer is limited physically as we humans are. The designer must have technology that we do not have (time-travel/space-travel, create cells from scratch, edit DNA at long distances without being discovered, etc). It doesn’t matter if the designer is human, alien, or time-traveler in this case. What does matter is, “who was their designer”? And this time, it is a critical issue.
If our (the royal ‘our’ indicating all life on the Earth) designer required a designer, then we still don’t know anything about the designer. If our designer didn’t require a designer, then why could they evolve, but we can’t. The only possible answer is that they couldn’t. This simple logical statement is the death knell to a non-deity-like designer.
Unfortunately, it also gets ID into trouble with the First Amendment of the US Constitution because you can’t establish one deity over another in the US.
Since an unknowable designer is, by definition, unknowable, then the only possible conclusion is that, if there is a designer, then the designer is a deity or deity-like entity.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t get us very far as we shall see next.
What Does the Designer Do (or What Did the Designer Do)?
If there is a designer, then the designer must be a deity. All of the ID proponents’ equivocating about possible designers is merely a ploy to prevent First Amendment issues. As we have seen, the ID proponents all assume and many have publicly stated that the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible is the designer. Michael Behe stated this in the Dover trial.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t help us either. Because it doesn’t tell us what the designer does or how it does it. What’s really unfortunate is that the logical conclusion of all the possibilities that either the designer doesn’t exist or it doesn’t matter if the designer exists or not.
These are the only possible designer actions:
- The designer does everything.
- The designer started the universe and now does nothing.
- The designer is a meddler.
The first two are rather easy, so let’s start there. What if the designer does everything? I mean everything. Every offspring born is designed, every orbit of every particle, specifically crafted. Every chemical reaction, guided. Every quantum fluctuation, observed. In other words, everything that we know about the universe is designed.
This sounds a lot like the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this designer isn’t a deity. This designer is physical/natural law. For example, since nuclear reactions operate the same way now as they did 2 billion years ago. We must assume that they will continue to do so. This applies to all natural laws that we have discovered.
In this case, there is no difference between what we observe in the universe and the deity. So there’s no reason to even worry about the deity. It is constrained to physical/natural law as much as we are.
What if the designer started the universe and walked away? Maybe to just observe to see what happens or not even care, much like that meatloaf that I left in the back of the fridge for 4 months.
Unfortunately, that result is exactly the same as above. Again, it’s not the deity doing anything, it’s all natural/physical law and everything science has observed and discovered works and is correct (within the limits of error).
In neither of these two cases does the ‘designer’ even need to be present in our universe or affect our universe in any way. Note that this applies whether the designer of the universe is God, Cthulhu, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or a fourteen-year-old’s ‘Matrix-like’ science fair project.
Further, since ID proponents (and creationists) specifically state that natural and physical mechanisms cannot accomplish all the things (especially evolution) that happen in our universe, then neither of these two choices are possible.
But what about the last one, what if the designer is a meddler? This statement covers a lot of ground, in fact it covers everything from a totally uninterested designer to a totally controlling designer.
If this third premise is the case, then we should be able to see the meddling of the designer. It should be obvious that things have occurred that could not have occurred naturally. There are a variety of versions of this premise, but I submit that all of them run afoul of the same problem. That is, there is no unambiguous evidence that even one such meddling event has occurred, much less enough to render macroevolution a null concept (which is what most IDers require).
For example, if the meddler is what makes the mutations in genomes happen, then again, the designer is no different from evolution and one may as well say that evolution is the designer.
If the meddler has only acted in ‘macroevolutionary’ events, then it should be obvious such that whales and artiodactyls have no obvious commonalities, yet they do. Both the fossil record and genetics support that whales and hippos have a common ancestor. It should be obvious that humans and chimpanzees are not very closely related. But the human Chromosome 2 provides evidence otherwise.
I will state that this is a negative statement. It cannot be disproved by observation because, humans have not and cannot observe everything that happens in the universe. This part of the argument runs afoul of the same problem that all arguments against evolution run into.
So, how do we resolve this situation?
Let’s consider only the evidence that we do have and the notions presented to us by ID proponents.
ID proponents say their designer did ‘x’, then later on, when science finds a natural explanation for ‘x’, the ID proponents either drop the claim or alter the claim to only be a subset of ‘x’. This is an untenable position commonly known as God-of-the-Gaps. As science learns more, the gaps get smaller and smaller, rendering their god/designer less and less important or useful.
Behe has done this in relation to his notion of irreducible complexity. All of Behe’s poster children for this concept have had this happen to him. The irreducibly complex systems in the immune system, the blood clotting cascade, the bacterial flagella, and anti-freeze proteins in fish have all gotten smaller and smaller as science has discovered more and more about them.
Behe is also ‘famous’ for his courtroom antics in the Dover trail. When presented with 50+ papers and a dozen textbooks about immune system evolution (one of which titled “Origin and Evolution of the Vertebrate Immune System”), Behe said, that he had never read them, but they didn’t answer his concerns that the immune system has no natural origin. 
So what does this mean for our deity-like designer? Very simply, there isn’t one that meets all of the claims of ID proponents AND matches the observations of the natural world.
One should keep in mind that if the designer affects the material universe, then by definition, the designer can be detected. Much like the wind cannot be seen, but the effects of wind on trees and flags are obvious. Every time the designer influences anything, then the fact that something influenced the outcome should be obvious, yet it is not. When I say ‘obvious’, what we mean is a scientific, non-biased obvious. There should be unambiguous evidence of this ‘design’ such that any rational person, looking at the evidence, will come to the same conclusion.
That’s not what we see though. There are only two, very tiny groups, which can even see the ‘evidence’ for ID. They are a few fundamentalist Christians and fewer fundamentalist Muslims. That’s pretty much it. There are no atheist supporters of ID. There are no Hindu supporters of ID. There are no animist supporters of ID. There are no pagan supporters of ID.
This seems like it may be a fallacious argument, where I’m arguing that because ID is only supported by certain religions, it is wrong. That is not the case. I am using this as an example of the fact that there is no unambiguous evidence for Intelligent Design. If there was unambiguous evidence, then people of other faiths and non-faiths would be supportive of ID. However, as we have seen, ID is based on and only on the concept of a deity. As the supporters of ID have stated, it is the Judeo-Christian God.
There is one final premise, that the designer is somehow ‘fooling’ us. The designer made ‘x’ (where ‘x’ is the universe, evolution, our lives, or whatever) to appear like it was natural, when it is not. This reeks of last Thursdayism and is, in effect, no different than the 100% intervention scenario and the 100% non-intervention scenario. We, as a species, can only act on what we observe to be true. If indeed the designer is ‘fooling’ us, then he is the one who is a fool, since he has ‘fooled’ us right away from him.
I hope that this article has covered all the possible options for the designer and why those options don’t work.
By pure logic, we can dismiss the notion of an intelligent designer. Until positive evidence for such a design in presented, the notion is without value to science.
To repeat, if there is a designer, then that designer is evolution (in the case of living systems) and physics/chemistry (in the case of everything else). There is only one option for a legitimate designer (that of a meddling deity) and there is no unambiguous evidence for that option to exist, much less the evidence of its meddling.
Further, we see that Intelligent Design as a notion isn’t even consistent with how it portrays the designer. It’s almost as though the ID proponents look at what the designer needs to accomplish and try to fit the designer into that and not investigate the designer itself and what it is capable of.
The only conclusion that makes sense is that the ‘designer’ is a red herring. ID is not (by its own admission) a scientific notion. Intelligent Design is a socio-political movement that wants nothing less than the complete control of the American culture.
I wanted to include this list of questions that ID proponents must answer. Most of their answers will be dealt with above, but these are some common ‘stumpers’. The ID proponent will do anything to avoid answering these questions. Continue to ask them until they admit that they cannot. If they cannot, then the notion has zero value.
- What is the difference in complexity between a designed thing and a non-designed thing? If the ID proponent can’t answer this question then they cannot determine if something is designed or not-designed. Since this is the primary notion of ID, they have nothing.
- How does one measure complexity (values, units, and process)? Since complexity is so important to ID, if the ID proponent can’t answer this (and none can), then there entire notion has no value.
- What values of complexity indicate design? Why? Being unable to answer this means the same thing as 1 above. Their entire notion is useless.
- What values of complexity indicate non-design? Why? Being unable to answer this means the same thing as 1 above. Their entire notion is useless.
- Can you (or anyone else) tell the difference between a designed system (gene, structure, protein, etc) and a non-designed version of the same thing? This doesn’t really relate to the ‘divinity’ of Intelligent Design, but it is a killer question. If the ID proponent can’t answer this question, then everything they say is just so much hot air. If they cannot do this, then the entire point of ID (as a science) is useless.
- What/Who is the designer? Keep in mind the points above.
- When did the designer last act? What did the designer do in when it last acted? How did the designer accomplish the act when it last acted? These last three are simple questions with enormous implications. ID does no research into their notions, so they cannot answer these questions.
- If the designer does not act in every instance of ‘macroevolution’, then there is no reason for it to act in any of them. If the designer does not act in every instance of ‘microevolution’, then there is no reason for it to act in any of them.Unless there is a purpose for the designer. If this is the case, then “What is the purpose?”, “Why?”, and “How do you know?” Since the designer is often God in this case, we’re getting into theological discussions, which would fill another couple of books and makes the whole thing a moot point for the ID proponent. If the ID proponent ever says ‘God did it’, then the First Amendment comes into play and is automatically rejected.
- Did the designer design the entire universe? Does the designer only work on living things? Did the designer only work once? These allow one to focus on particular aspects of the designer. Which is important, because there are as many designers as there are ID proponents.
 I use ‘notion’ because ID hasn’t developed any testable hypothesis and cannot (as I will show) be used to describe anything about how the world works, so it cannot be called a theory. I started calling it a ‘notion’ after watching The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon describes one of his friends ideas as (paraphrase) “not an idea, but a notion… and a sucky one at that.”
 http://www.antievolution.org/features/wedge.pdf (retrieved 1/18/2011)
 http://www.amazon.com/book-should-listed-under-religion/forum/Fx2L5L6YWDEF2XQ/TxV83DNDLXN9CO/1/ref=cm_cd_pg_pg1?_encoding=UTF8&asin=0061472794&cdSort=oldest (this is a LONG thread, but my part starts in about October off 2010 and the discussion of universe vs. biology is around December 2010)
 One of the reasons for this is that the ID proponent cannot tell the difference between actions of the Judeo-Christian God and any other deity. Just because they have a Bible doesn’t mean that their Bible is correct. What if the designer is Allah? What if the designer is Odin? What if the designer is Cthullu? They are the same in terms of this discussion and inclusion of one would require inclusion of all, until some evidence was presented that was sufficiently different that allowed us to distinguish between them.