July 9, 2020

Paul Wallace Says, “Intelligent Design Is Dead”

Johannes Kepler

“Because ID is established in scientific ignorance, it cannot last. It is passing even now.”

• Paul Wallace

• • •

In an article on the Huffington Post, Paul Wallace has stated his agreement with those who declare that the Intelligent Design movement is dead. But rather than list and explain the scientific reasons for this position, Wallace instead goes back to fundamental principles, giving readers a history lesson that speaks to the relationship between faith and science.

He takes us back to the 1600’s when Johannes Kepler was working on his theories of astronomy. One day, he came across a new star that had appeared, and in his 1606 work, De stella nova, he sought to understand how such an event could have happened. As he considered various possibilities, Kepler set forth the possibility that God had created the star in a special act of divine intervention.

He began to consider special creation: a deliberate, separate act of God unconnected with any other natural event, direct and special tinkering by the divine hand. But in the end he withdrew from that conclusion, writing “before we come to [special] creation, which puts an end to all discussion, I think we should try everything else.”

Why did Kepler reject supernatural creation as an explanation? Not because he had a small view of God, or was predisposed against divine intervention in the universe. He did not view creation as a closed system in which God could not tinker. Rather, it was because he held a conviction that God had created a comprehensible universe and made human beings in his image who were capable of discovering creation’s design. He believed there must be an explanation, though he could not name it at the time.

As Wallace notes, Kepler’s fundamental axiom was: The universe has been designed; therefore it must be comprehensible.

He contrasts this with the work of Michael Behe and other purveyors of Intelligent Design. When examining the complexity of the bacterial flagellum, Behe came to the conclusion that it was irreducibly complex, and therefore must have been specially designed.

As Wallace observes, Behe turned Kepler’s fundamental axiom on its head: The universe is incomprehensible; therefore it must have been designed.

In other words, Behe and the other proponents of ID have chosen an approach that puts an end to further inquiry and discussion by inserting a special act of God at a point where we do not yet have understanding.

Wallace points out how contrary this is to the spirit of Kepler and other scientists for whom the rationality of the created universe prompted never-ending curiosity and perseverance in the scientific enterprise.

Looking upon the new star in September 1604, could Kepler have envisioned stellar evolution, mass-transfer binary stars, and explosive carbon fusion? No, and so he remained silent. His humility, his belief in the richness of creation, and his expansive faith allowed him to admit ignorance while leaving the door of causal science wide open.

ID denies its proponents that freedom. Having opted to close the door on science, they steal from themselves the opportunity to see nature more deeply. In so doing they dig in their heels, refusing to be drawn, Kepler-style, closer to the creator God they all believe in. This is the great irony of ID.

Out of reverence for God, people of faith and science will reject any approach to comprehending the natural world that closes the door on further inquiry and discovery. Learning more about creation can only increase our appreciation for the infinite wisdom of our Creator. As we grow in our understanding, it will certainly pose challenges with regard to treasured interpretations and “certainties” that we have embraced in the past. It will require diligence, patience, generosity, and trust to work through the questions that will be raised. We must not bow to fear as our ruling principle or merely substitute God as a convenient answer when none is immediately at hand. Ignorance is no crime, and saying, “I don’t know yet, and maybe I never will” is not something from which to shrink. But to keep learning and trying to learn is a way of loving God.

As Paul Wallace reminds us:

Kepler reminds us that religious people do not need to shrink from science and its naturalistic methods, because they more than others have a rich tradition in which to locate these things, a context that allows them to take science seriously but not too seriously, and a strong bulwark against the lull of materialism.


  1. What a fantastic post! Thanks for sharing.

    • Agree, great post.

      But Kepler’s beliefs is also a form of ID: “he held a conviction that God had created a comprehensible universe and made human beings in his image who were capable of discovering creation’s design.”

      That is intelligent design. Because the universe is intelligently designed, there is an order, a rationality, a non-chaotic nature to it that makes scientific discovery possible. This is a basic assumption of science that science cannot prove. Science has no means to prove that nature maintains its orderly nature, that our scientific discoveries correlate to reality, that our bodies are able to interact and sense reality. Really, why would our bodies have evolved to sense the true nature of things, rather than detect just enough of our surroundings to survive? Science is limited by its inability to prove the necessary assumptions for it to be workable. They are simply assumed, or taken on faith. ID provides the basis for these assumptions: God imposed an order on nature so that we may trust our senses and interactions in creation.

      A related post here, on how materialism boils down to a matter of faith: http://jackkilcrease.blogspot.com/2012/01/materialism-is-fideism.html

      • +1

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        But Kepler’s beliefs is also a form of ID: “he held a conviction that God had created a comprehensible universe and made human beings in his image who were capable of discovering creation’s design.”

        Kepler’s beliefs are CLASSIC ID, before it got hijacked as a front for YEC Uber Alles. Originally called “Natural Theology”, it was not so much science as a philosophical foundation for science. The idea that God had created a comprehensible universe implies a consistent and understandable physical universe. Unlike many gods constantly at loggerheads or a God who flips the universe one-eighty at every Divine whim. Classic SF author Poul Anderson (agnostic) claimed Christianity’s idea of one consistent and rational God who is reflected in the universe was key in the origin of Western science (and why Western culture — formerly known as Christendom — was the only human civilization to spark scientific advancement).

        THAT is what got hijacked by Creation Science, Ken Ham, and the other YEC Uber Alles types. Now it is nothing more than a coat of paint for Young Earth Creationism. Just the latest Party Line of propaganda spin. (There is an editorial cartoon of a preacher-man holding up a book titled “Creationism” whose title has been crossed out and “Intelligent Design” crudely lettered in its place. That says it all.)

        • If IMonk had a “dislike button” button for posts you know damn well that Ken Hamm would keep clicking away at it. That’s the nature of some of these guys….

        • Exactly right.

          A side point: the whole YEC and OEC debates don’t make any sense if one understands even a little bit about relativity theory. The debate essentially boils down to asking what was God’s frame of reference when creating earth? Was he on earth or on a beam of light shooting from the big bang? You can adjust for varying degrees of literalism and science, just by changing God’s velocity. Or, just accept that it’s a stupid debate that we won’t know until we’re dead.

          Also, we can go back to believing in geocentrism, which is awesome. I don’t think scientists have established any privileged or absolute frame of reference yet.

      • Also, Kepler was a good Lutheran.

  2. David Clark says

    Just to be clear up front, I’m not a fan of ID and think Christians should accept the prevailing consensus on evolution.

    But having said that, I think this: “The universe is incomprehensible; therefore it must have been designed.” is not a fair summary of ID. The idea behind ID is that 1) Some mechanisms are irreducibly complex, 2) We can understand that the mechanism is irreducibly complex, and 3) Because it is irreducibly complex we can infer a designer. ID advocates don’t advocate the view that we can’t understand flagella and other phenomena. As far as I can tell they put no limits on understanding the biochemistry and physics involved in such a thing. Thus in a real sense evolutionists and IDers all agree that the workings of the flagella are, in theory, capable of being perfectly understand.

    It’s at that point they part ways. Having understood the flagellum an evolutionist sees evolutionary pathways which account for its existence. The IDer will make statistical arguments that the evolutionary pathway is “irreducibly complex” i.e. the pathway is for all intents and purposes impossible from the probability standpoint. However, both argue from a position of understanding the facts.

    • Nicely expounded, David Clark. I was about to say something similar, though not nearly as well.

      The weight of history is phenomenally against the ID approach. Many examinations of phenomena in the past have concluded “irreducibly complexity” (for various reasons, using different terms), but in every instance it has been shown to be a false declaration.

      ID’s claim that mankind has finally gotten to the point where we can TRULY determine the irreducibly complex items is unlikely in the extreme and smacks of hubris, to me.

      Using the flagellum as an example, I am 100% certain that in another fifty years, we’ll see how the a flagellum is able to develop from proto parts. This is how every other such claim of ‘irreducible complexity” has wound up, and claiming that we have finally arrived at the TRUE irreducibly complex item(s) is rather ridiculous.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Or, to put it another way, the assertion that “We can understand that the mechanism is irreducibly complex” is really the observation that the person proclaiming the irreducible complexity can’t think of a way to reduce it. Even assuming complete good faith, this is merely a statement about the state of knowledge at the moment. And often the person making the statement has an ulterior incentive to arrive at this conclusion, making it not even a statement about the state of knowledge in any general sense.

        • And the flagellum is the classic example.

          – The flagellum is irreducably complex, there are no structures it could have evolved from

          – Here is one that it could have evolved from

          – Errr..

        • Respectfully disagree. Irreducible complexity does not imply the person “can’t think of a way to reduce it.” The implication is that if it is reduced further, the function is lost and the parts were made to be assembled for that particular function. The usual example is a mousetrap. It can certainly be reduced to a spring, a trigger, a platform, etc., but once that’s done, it is no longer a mousetrap. I would recommend the book “Signature in the Cell” which gives a better argument for ID from an information theory perspective.

  3. Randy Thompson says

    Someone wise told me years ago that the problem with Intelligent Design is that you can’t make (scientific) predictions based on it. That is, it doesn’t produce test-able hypotheses which can be proved or disproved. This helped me a lot at the time. Having said that, I think it offers, or can offer, a good theology of science.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Yes. Intelligent Design is not a science: it is theology. It is commentary on evolution, not an alternative. To the extant that it is presented as an alternative, it is at best incoherent meandering and at worst duplicitous.

      Or, to put it another way into one of the few interesting and sensible statements that can comfortably fit on a bumper sticker: “God is who: evolution is how.” A Christian evolutionary biologist and an atheist evolutionary biology will approach their profession in exactly the same way. The difference is what they will take away from it.

    • When a scientist says “you can’t make scientific predictions based on ID”, isn’t he guilty of the exact same offense as the ID’er saying “this system is irreducibly complex”? That is, the statement is bringing further inquiry to a stand still. To both their statements seem glaringly obvious, but not to their opponent.

      • Theo, the problem is not a bias, but instead that there is no statement that is “if ID is true, we should expect to find this result.” (If there is, please correct me, but in the readings I’ve done I haven’t seen anything like that.) Science, in its best form, makes predictions and then tests them out. (If evolution is true, then there should be a genetic component to this mutation that allows e. coli to eat this kind of nutrient/the bones in the flippers of a whale should resemble the bones in the front foot of a dog/there should be odd inefficiencies (like the vagus nerve in a giraffe) found in species that are due to shifts in organs caused by a gradual change)

        • My point is that saying “ID has not yet made a testable prediction, and is unlikely to” is much different than saying “ID CANNOT make a testable prediction.” The second statement smacks of the same anti-science mindset that the ID’ers are accused of promoting (that is, prematurely adhering to a conclusion despite the possibility of it being disproven).

          The fatal flaw of the ID movement has been their insistence on the discussion being couched in terms of science (directly attacking science classrooms and textbooks with their ideas), yet their own claims cannot be scientifically supported. As others have mentioned here, ID is more of a philosophical / theological endeavor in its current form and hasn’t earned the right to be discussed as science.

          From what I’ve read, the sliver of hope for ID getting any traction in the science world is in developing a rigorous test of irreducible complexity. If they can develop a method for mathematically proving irreducible complexity of a system (supported in peer reviewed journals), that will give them some legs to stand on. The idea of proving irreducible complexity is the most compelling idea to come out of the ID movement and is something I think should be pursued. It would be a shame to dismiss the concept out of hat just because it is being promoted by scientific pariahs.

  4. Hi all,

    I quite agree with David Clark. One should be careful not to overgeneralize what the ID group believes. From my underdtanding, a common misunderstanding of ID is that they are proposing that God actually “exists,” when they are making an argument for design not the “who,” “what,” or “why” of God. ID folk at their most basic premise say that things appear not to have been the product of mere chance. To say more than that for the ID folks is to veer off into philosophical/theological explanations that the ID are not trying to prove.

    But as a Christian, I assume a supernatural element to creation. I think that the supernatural is an integral and vital part of my faith otherwise my beliefs are just man-made ideology that throws in the word “God” here and there,
    which in the end has no meaning.

    My 2 cents 🙂

    • The Previous Dan says

      Agreed. After reading the article it seems that Paul Wallace does stereotype IDers. Of course this is practical due to the space constraints of the article. However, maybe he should have limited his critique to specific persons within the ID community instead of trying to bake everyone in one big pie.

      • I don’t think he intends a detailed or nuanced critique of ID. He is pointing out that, in the most basic possible sense, they can’t be taken seriously as a scientific approach.

  5. I used to teach in an interdenominational Montessori school. The children’s families ranged from Latin Mass Catholic families to very conservative evangelicals to a few agnostics, new agers and Muslims. We often had the issue of God in creation during the introduction to the universe’s creation discussions which traditionally is called “The God with No Hands.” We often found ourselves answering that science can say what but theology says why. I’ve found some level of peace with that imperfect answer. Theories overlap with theology because your world view enters into your theory development.

  6. My issue with the ID position is really a much broader issue: I don’t think you can “prove” Christianity or force someone, intellectually, to accept the existence of God. And I think our attempts to do so – whether by ID arguments or any of our other modern apologetics – are a form of violence, trying to overpower someone else through superior intellect or argument. As with all other forms of violence (including the many forms of emotional manipulation that we use in our evangelism), that simply doesn’t fit with the way Jesus lived and taught.

    I feel a genuine awe, and even a genuine sense of worship and of the greatness of our Creator, when I think about this world coming into being over billions of years and about the whole intricate dance of molecules and planets that somehow led up to where we are today. Trying to wrap my head around that vast expanse of time gives me a _deeper_ sense of how infinite God is than I would otherwise have. And knowing that God has stepped in throughout human history to guide and shape us – most notably by walking among us in human form, but also through many miracles and prophets throughout time – makes it easy for me also to trust that all along those billions of years, God’s hands were shaping and holding and caring for God’s Creation.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      My issue with the ID position is really a much broader issue: I don’t think you can “prove” Christianity or force someone, intellectually, to accept the existence of God.

      Yet attempts at just that — from Intelligent Design to Search for Noah’s Ark — consume a lot of time and energy among the Evangelical Wilderness. Like they want to find something — Genesis 1 encoded in the human genome, The End going down exactly as Hal Lindsay choreographed, whatever — to rub in everyone else’s faces to prove “I Was Right!” and force the Other to convert.

      Or maybe all this search for Unambiguous PROOF of God’s existence (“as if God had nothing to do but exist”) and the literal truth of the Bible is just their way of stifling all doubt within themselves. Like they’re afraid Dawkins et al were right all along and have to get more in-your-face and shrill to PROVE it all to themselves.

      • Is it not a little arrogant for any finite creature to think they can empiricaly absolutly “prove” there is an infinite God? Looking at creation/nature may be a proof to me there is a God. But only the infinte can empiricaly absolutely prove there is someting infinite. “The just shall live by faith…”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Is it not a little arrogant for any finite creature to think they can empiricaly absolutly “prove” there is an infinite God?

          Doesn’t mean they can’t keep trying.

    • Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe….it wouldn’t be faith if you could prove it now would it?

      • Small disagreement Tim, much faith, belief or trust is based on evidence. Thomas needed evidence to believe, We have evidence for the resurrected Christ, not face to face evidence as the disciples did, but evidence none the less. The more I see God work, the stronger my faith becomes.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Then, Tim B, you might want to start bowing towards Mecca five times a day. Because Faith and Reason as enemies (and Faith Faith Faith must prevail, God Wills It) was the conclusion reached by Thomas Aquinas’ counterpart in Islam, Mohammed abu-Hamid al-Ghazali. Given the same problem — how to reconcile God’s Revealed Faith with Reason — the two came to opposite conclusions.

        What resulted with al-Ghazali was Faith = Blind Faith, in contradiction to all observation and physical evidence. Anything reasoned or thought out is of the Devil; only Blind Faith is Godly. Islam’s been going down al-Ghazali’s road for 800 years; look where it got them.

  7. Kenny Johnson says

    I was once very sympathetic to ID and have since become more comfortable with the theistic evolutionist point of view. I’ve often said, even as an ID supporter that I didn’t think evolution was a problem for my faith, it just didn’t make much sense to me. And even today I find it difficult to believe that random mutation and natural selection are solely responsible for all the speciation and diversity of life we see — but I’m open.

    For me, ID was not about disproving evolution. It was about trying to understand how order can arise from chaos by merely naturalistic means. Life from non-life. Complex organisms like humans from simple single-celled organisms, etc.

    I never looked at ID as simply a throwing up the hands and saying — because I don’t understand, “God did it,” rather I said, all this order and complexity APPEARS to be the work of a designer. . . Is it possible we can see his fingerprint?

    • Kenny, you used the term “theistic evolution”. I used to be under the impression that that’s what “intelligent design” was all about—that evolution is in fact viable science, but that a god may have been responsible for it. Now, after several years of “flamewars” it looks like intelligent design has been hijacked by young-earth creationists. Or was it like this all along?

      Like you, ID (or what I thought was ID) was not about disproving evolution. I agree with you that random forces aren’t the cause and that this is the work of a Designer, but that’s not good enough for the YEC folks. They want it all, and are going to end up with nothing but (and I”ll steal this shameless from HUG) a 6016-year-old Punyverse.

      • Kenny Johnson says

        ” I used to be under the impression that that’s what “intelligent design” was all about.”

        That’s not how I understand the terms. From my understanding, those who label themselves as theistic evolutionists or evolutionary creationists tend to believe in a naturalistic explanation for the development of life, speciation, and the diversity of organisms. They tend to see the creation event as a singular event in which God “front-loaded” information into the creation event — which led to a natural progression of the universe, life, evolution, etc. So — essentially — no “tinkering” from God once He set things in motion.

        • So, it is back to Deism?

          • Certainly not. It is to recognize that “God” is not an answer in science, which is about understanding natural processes. You don’t feel offended if “God” is left out of mathematics, do you?

          • To steal from Michael Flynn, who loves to quote the Mediaevals in such discussions – a quote from a work of St. Thomas Aquinas on the difference between Intelligent Design and Theistic Evolution (yes, Tommy A didn’t have those exact terms in mind, but the principle remains the same):

            “7. Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship.
            (Commentary on Physics II.8, lecture 14, no. 268) ”

            In other words, not Deism – the natural progression of creation which God put into it at the start so that things developed according to their own capacities – as if, in the example above, a ship could assemble itself out of pieces of wood.

          • This sounds exactly like Deism unless the “front-loading” is followed through by a god who has provided for the natural processes or the wood to be assembled—or by a god who continues to guide the processes.

            And Mike, I wouldn’t dream of leaving God out of mathematics. I wouldn’t be offended if a non-believing mathematician left him out, but I’d be baffled and probably very much offended if a believing one didn’t recognize God’s hand in math. Even 2+2 didn’t just happen, let alone the higher stuff.

            But, I don’t think we should be bullied into teaching it that way. Though math is part of creation, it can very effectively be taught independently of God.

            • Ted, of course, in one sense we don’t leave God out of mathematics, or anything! What I am saying is that in the discipline of mathematics, while working out problems, one does not posit “God” as an answer when one comes to an impasse. One works within the cosmos of mathematics to find a number or formula that solves the problem. Of course, for all of this we give God glory. But if I could not figure out 2 + x = 4, “God” would not be wild card in my hand that I could play so that I wouldn’t have to figure it out.

          • Kenny Johnson says

            It doesn’t assume God is absent from His creation, only that he is no longer creating. Deism suggests a distant, uncaring God. Theistic evolution — even the “front loading” kind doesn’t demand that. It only says God is no longer actively creating. Is that really much different from YEC or OEC which suggests that God rested from creating after the 6th day (or 6th era)?

          • Thanks, Kenny. Knowing who I’m talking to here (you, Mike, Martha) I think I had it figured out. But this needs to be stated carefully or it does sound like Deism.

            I can’t put it in terms that “God is no longer actively creating”, only that he is no longer creating ex nihilo. And I’m not even very sure about that.

            So I guess I’m not a theistic evolutionist—if we can even get these definitions sorted out.

          • God creates faith ex nihilo. But that is definitely not science.

          • Oh, and what about mathematics and its incompleteness theorems? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6del%27s_incompleteness_theorems

        • Actually, mathematics is a pretty good example of the important distinction to be made between TRUTH and PROOF.

          I have a certain mathematical conjecture that’s long been dear to my heart, but won’t burden anyone else with here. Suppose that an angel of the Lord appeared to me, in the presence of witnesses, TV cameras, and a notary public and proclaimed, “Trevis, your conjecture is true!” Assuming for the sake of argument that we weren’t all delusional and that God really was trying to tell me just what the angel said, can I now speak of the conjecture as being true?

          No, of course not. The problem is not that I have “to take it on faith” or that Richard Dawkins just simply won’t believe me. The problem is rather that a _proof_ is what we’re after, a connection between what we already know and what we conjecture to be true. We are NOT simply wanting the teacher to look over our shoulder and pat us on the back for guessing the right answer — or to simply fill in the correct bubble for us.

          Further, even if God were to write out an entire proof, Belshazzar-feast style, on my living room wall, I still couldn’t simply point to it and say, “See, my conjecture is true!” Instead, the human minds of the mathematical community would try to make sense of it before it was accepted as true.

          The same, of course, is true of other fields of inquiriy. You want to be able to connect what has already been established with what is novel, using the methods of the field. It’s not a knock against divine revelation that it can play no determinative role in such pursuits. It plays no role in plumbing either.

          As for the incompleteness theorems that Brigitte mentions, the proof that there are mathematical statements that are neither provable nor disprovable within the context of a mathematics rich enough for arithmetic is unquestionably one of the great intellectual achievements of the twentieth centurey. I am entirely less sure of what exactly this is supposed to say about God. Believing that God “has the right answer” to these unprovability results is mostly just a misapprehension of what is even meant by mathematical truth. Yet it is still sort of theologically unsettling all the same, I must admit.

      • Intelligent Design wasnt hijacked by anyone. It was specifically CREATED by the creationists in an attempt to get creationism into the schools in the USA.

  8. It seems to have become a popular accusation of anti-theists that Christians are anti-science. This has become a favorite characterization, in fact. To label ID’s as such, is also quite cheap. When listening to such anti-theists one seems to hear nothing much beyond the mocking.

    I am always looking to hear something of substance from them, but it is actually pretty hard to come by.

    For example, Richard Dawkins, in his new book for children says that the ancestors of man were fishes, etc. and that we cannot say when man actually became man. There was no first man. Man became man imperceptibly, gradually, like when a baby becomes a toddler. You can’t tell from day to day. I had to actually laugh out loud when I read that in the aisle at Costco. Our evolutionist is comparing human development to macro-evolution? Really?

    This week, too, someone lent us “Angels and Demons” to watch. Well, what did we have there. The “church”, read Roman Catholic theocracy, interfered with Galileo’s discoveries. The “church” is always at odds with “science”. This we know is not true. In the same way, I had just learned from CBC radio and the author of a book “A more perfect heaven”, that it was Copernicus who discovered that the planets revolve around the sun, and that it was a Lutheran from Wittenberg University who went out of his way to help him have his work published. This publication did suffer from not being read very widely and thoroughly, and not until Galileo “championed the idea of heliocentrism” (wikipedia) did it take hold. Also, in just looking this over on wikipedia, we see that works that the inquisition did not like were published in the Netherlands, and so on. There were plenty of Christians around, who had plenty of interest in science and the publication of new ideas.

    In terms of ID and its supposed the demise: I am personally totally interested in science and biology, but I have not yet seen a mechanism that could account for the things that we see. Go ahead and keep looking, but as for one I cannot see a single cell forming itself from inorganic materials, nor even a useful protein.

    • Again, in the big fight between Science and Religion, where – as Brigitte says above – “the church (read Roman Catholic theocracy)” is always trying to suppress science, I’m going to steal from Mike Flynn, who puts a lot of time into explaining what theologians and philosophers really meant when they constructed arguments for the existence of God (and that these were more complex than the simplistic strawman of ‘infinite regress’ or ‘if God made everything, who made God?’ set up to be knocked down by Dawkins).

      “In the December issue of ANALOG Science Fiction/Science Fact, Dr. Stanley Schmidt, in the course of addressing a broader issue, quotes one E.W.Howe as saying, “one of the great discoveries in science was made by a man cultivating the ordinary garden pea.” This makes it sound like the discovery was a backyard happenstance by an amateur. But it was not an ordinary pea garden, nor even ordinary garden peas. It was a set of greenhouses specially constructed to carry out a series of carefully planned scientific experiments, and pea strains carefully cultivated to breed true. (Howe also fails to mention that Gregor Mendel, O.S.A., was an Augustinian monk.)

      … People sometimes wonder where Mendel found the time to do all this, considering his monastic responsiblities. I have even seen it alleged that the abbot shut him down, a nice example of “model-based history”. But the answer is easy. His research was one of his monastic responsibilities. The monastery had been conducting hybridization research even before Mendel arrived. The Augustinians freed up his time for the research, allocated large plots of land for his research, and built a greenhouse where he could establish a control group for his studies. The Order did not sorta kinda “give Mendel a research grant” to pursue his personal hobby as some historically ill-informed have grudgingly allowed: The research was part and parcel of the Order’s program. Mendel himself had trained as a physicist, not a biologist, so this would not likely have been his own personal choice. Mendel was simply doing the scientific research that his Order asked him to do.

      Mendel’s results were published in the Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brünn in 1866. No-one noticed. Over the next 35 years, his work was cited… three times! Oh well. In the early 1900s, Mendel’s work was rediscovered by Correns, deVries, and others, and developed into an entirely new discipline within biology — genetics.

      … For so long as the universe was regarded as eternal, there was no reason to suppose the furniture was not also eternal. After all, Darwin knew all the same animals that Aristotle did. But the Judaeo-Christian notion of the universe as a created thing with a beginning in time undermined this notion — and disenchanted the universe, as well. There were no dryads in the well, no nymphs behind the trees. The stars were not actual gods, but “just another created thing.” But if the universe had a beginning in time, there was no reason why individual species would not also have beginnings in time.

      Genesis states that God told the sea and the land to bring forth the living kinds and that the sea and the land obeyed by bringing them forth. St. Augistine of Hippo wrote a millennium and a half ago that this must be interpreted causally. Nature had been given the power to act immanently in obedience to laws the Creator had laid down. Thomas Aquinas, who believed in a beginning in time, supposed that new species, “if any such appear,” would be “produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.” IOW, by powers inherent in nature. He did not suggest they would “poof” into existence. In Contra gentiles, he regarded a multiplication of species in space and time as a positive good: finite matter participating in the infinity of God. So for theological reasons, there ought to have been new species replacing old.

      This remarkable groundwork was obscured when medieval scholasticism was abandoned, and it is significant that the wacky new ideas that arose — of all species created at the same time and directly by God the Efficient Cause, of design being evidenced by the improbability of dead matter coming together by chance, and so forth — were all themselves products of the Modern Ages.

      The notion that matter is dead and must be “pushed” from without, while defensible as regards inanimate matter and physics, is less so when dealing with living matter and biology. Living things — more or less (some more, some less) possess the principles of their own motion, as Aristotle wrote. (And Darwin, after reading The Parts of Animals regarded the Old Stagerite as far above Buffon and his other near contemporaries.) But the successes of the Early Modern Age in physics led to an attempt to apply the metaphysics underlying Modern physics to biology, with mixed success.”

      • Martha, this has Einstein written all over it, or at least you reminded me of him a couple of times:

        1. You said, “The Order did not sorta kinda “give Mendel a research grant” to pursue his personal hobby as some historically ill-informed have grudgingly allowed: The research was part and parcel of the Order’s program.”

        Einstein worked as a clerk in a patent office in Switzerland, which must have bored him silly. And because nobody “gave him a research grant to pursue his hobby” he stole work time to develop his theory of special relativity. And he always felt kinda guilty about that…

        2. And then you said, “For so long as the universe was regarded as eternal, there was no reason to suppose the furniture was not also eternal. “

        That was the way it was throughout the 19th Century, the “good old days” of Christian Faith (!). People today forget that their great-grandparents believed in an eternal, infinite universe even though this worldview contradicts the Bible. It was Einstein (cue unethical use of office time in Swiss Patent Office) whose theories brought us back to a finite universe that really did have a beginning. Just like Genesis.

        Except that it gets called “The Big Bang” and somehow that threatens certain people. Go figure.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          That was the way it was throughout the 19th Century, the “good old days” of Christian Faith (!). People today forget that their great-grandparents believed in an eternal, infinite universe even though this worldview contradicts the Bible.

          i.e. Aristotle instead of Genesis.

      • I think Mendel was not popular because his research did not fit the prevailing Darwinism.

        Genetics really still does not fit with Darwinism. Random mutations for new information? Or did they come up with something else and I missed it.

        • Yes, random mutations can and do produce new information. Lets do an example:


          Then there is an accidental doubling of that part of the genome


          Then one of the bases is wrongly copied


          Bingo! We now have, by way of random mutations that are actually observed happening, more information than we started with.

          • Jack Heron says

            And that’s not even getting into the whole exciting realm of other ways creatures can evolve. *Removal* of genetic information can produce new developments, as can the rejigging of how and when genes are activated. Genetic information does not correlate in any simple way with morphology.

        • Yes, and has this been shown to be useful?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And the only times I’ve heard “DARWINISM” (or “Macroevolution”) used almost exclusively has been from the mouths of Young Earth Creationists.

          • Kenny Johnson says
          • I use “macro-evolution”, because this distinction is, indeed, rarely used by those who talk about natural selection as the force behind changes in populations. How many text books, for how long, taught “evolution” based on the example of the peppered moth, for instance. Similarly, changes in size or beaks, etc. based on the environmental pressures cannot serve to tell us anything in relation to “macro-evolution”, i.e. how we get “new” structures, or changed from fish to man.

            I have always felt it very disingenuous that there simply should be “evolution” and examples like the peppered moth could be cited as examples. Explain it differently to me, if you can.

          • What about the lizards of Pod Mrcaru? There was a species of lizard (Podarcis sicula) that lived on an island, Pod Kopiste. None lived on Pod Mrcaru. Some scientists put 5 pairs of P. sicula on Pod Mrcaru in 1971 and next checked in with them in 2008.

            The lizard populations had diverged. DNA analysis showed that the ones on Pod Mrcaru were indeed P. sicula. The ones on Pod Mrcaru were more vegetarian, had bigger heads and the beginnings of caecal valves were starting to appear.

            That’s amazingly fast change–less than 20 generations!

            And then there’s Lenski’s bacteria experiment with E. coli.

          • That’s not “macro-evolution”. You still have lizards. Populations changed because of environmental pressures and natural selection, selecting for genes which were already in the pool. This is how you get white peppered moths and black peppered moths. There are so many loci for certain traits, and when you select for a certain preference you get divergence. This can easily happen very quickly. And there were “beginnings of valves starting to appear”. That’s pretty tentative language.

          • “You still have lizards”. So, you see no problems with evolution in large groups. So, you see no problems with the idea of humans evolving from other apes? There is a huge, wide range of variety within the group you refer to as lizards as within the whole of the group we call mammals.

          • There is a certain latitude, limited by the available genes, in a group which can inter-breed.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Again, “Macroevolution” is almost exclusively a YEC Christianese word.

    • “The Magic of Reality” was written for children and is actually a very good book on both science and myths.

      I think you missed Dawkins’s point. When you look back at the ancestors of any living mammal, say, you find that every single pair of parents have offspring that look like themselves. The changes are extremely slow over time. It is a fault of taxonomy that lines are drawn between species. So you have the bizarre situation that everything must be on one side of a line or another. Hence the fact that theoretically, one must arise at a point where the offspring of genus Australopithecus suddenly jump to another genus (Homo) ! Because taxonomy categorizes among groups not on a continuum.

      The other point he was making in that explanation is that currently living animals didn’t evolve from each other, they evolved from common ancestors. This is a common misconception that many have. Humans didn’t evolve from chimps, they have both evolved from a common ancestor. This was an error I was rather egotistically making, assuming humans had evolved but really not paying any attention to the fact that the chimps had also evolved (and the dog, and the cat, and the mouse…). Dawkins’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” set me straight.

      • “The Magic of Reality” was written for children, indeed, and this bothers me even more. Whatever illustration
        Dawkins wanted to chose to illustrate “gradual change over time”, he should NOT use as example something which is “development”. Development is programmed and based on the genetic code which already exists. In fact, nothing in the memory of mankind has ever gradually changed from one species into another or developed a new organ, etc. This why he needs to resort to an illustration which misleads, and one that he as a biologist and ardent proponent of gradual evolutionary change and vocal anti-theist, can’t really afford. The way I read it is that he thinks that we are all stupid and will let this stand.

        • I take it you’re objecting to the illustrations starting on p 40? Here they are along with what I think the critter illustrated (remember Dawkins is writing this for children–he didn’t give species names) is:

          p 40 placoderm

          p 41 Homo sapiens and H. erectus

          p 42 & 43 fossils

          p 44 & 45 fanciful time machine imagery

          p 46 something like Sahelanthropus tchadensis, it would have been a creature of around that time period.

          p 47 probably a member of Catarrhini and a member of Strepsirrhini.

          p 48 most likely a cynodont

          p 49 Hylonomus and either Ichthyostega or Acanthostega.

          If so, these illustrations don’t deviate much from reconstructive illustrations made from casts of fossils, fossils, DNA, etc.

  9. Some of you seem to be conflating ID with creationism. I am not an ID scholar, but my understanding of it is that it is a theory that complexity is better explained by positing a designer rather than by positing random, undirected causes. It is not incompatible with theistic evolution.

    • Marshall, that is a theological argument, not a scientific one, and makes Wallace’s case.

      • Kenny Johnson says

        But what if, as ID proponents suggest, design is observable. We do observe design in other areas of science (forensics, archaeology, etc). So why couldn’t it be done in biology and still be called science?

        • What appears as design to you and others could just be the result of the natural laws of the universe. Go back 200 years and most of the physical world looked this way. As we learn more and more about physics at both the atomic and cosmological ends of things we identify more and more things that look, feel, and work the way they do “because they must”.

          Now this moves the debate as to how the laws of nature came to be but that is a truely different discussion than ID.

          • Kenny Johnson says

            But again, design is certainly detectable and within the realm of science. I gave 2 examples where science is used to detect design. Granted, it’s used to determine human design, but its still detecting design.

            A forensic scientists can determine if a murder happened due to natural causes, for example, or murder. Similarly, an archaeologist can determine that something was an early tool rather than just a rock.

          • Kenny Johnson says

            Just wanted to add. That’s what ID set out to accomplish. Now you can argue whether or not they succeeded or can succeed, but I don’t think their pursuit can be simply written off as unscientific. Specified complexity and irreducible complexity were two features of something could (potentially) show that something was designed.

        • In archeology, we know what design looks like, because we know the processes that are used in designing and making things. We know this, because we have lots of information about the organisms that do the designing. We know how many hands they have, we know what their vision is like. We know what sort of things they do. We know what they need to eat. As a result, we can make (mental) models of what these creating beings would want to make, and what the objects they make might look like and we can compare them to what we find in the ground.

          ID doesnt do this.

          • Kenny Johnson says

            So, do you believe we couldn’t recognize design if we went to another planet and found something left by an alien race? Because we have no experience or knowledge of what their design might look like?

    • Marshall, I just replied to Kenny, a few posts above yours, on just that.

      You’re right, we’re now conflating ID with creationism because in my opinion the term has been hijacked. I agree with you and with Kenny that ID is not incompatible with theistic evolution.

      I also think we need to re-establish what we mean by ID. Is it merely young-earth creationism these days, or can it be more?

      • For more information about how Intelligent Design was not hijacked, but created by creationists, do a google for the “Wedge Document” and “cdesign propopentists”

        • Kenny Johnson says

          The Wedge Document said nothing about Young Earth Creationism. And considering Behe has been part of the Discovery Institute since the beginning, I don’t think he would have agreed to it.

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    He did not view creation as a closed system in which God could not tinker. Rather, it was because he held a conviction that God had created a comprehensible universe and made human beings in his image who were capable of discovering creation’s design. He believed there must be an explanation, though he could not name it at the time.

    As Wallace notes, Kepler’s fundamental axiom was: The universe has been designed; therefore it must be comprehensible.

    “Natural Theology,” not science per se, but a philosophical foundation for science. THAT’s what “Intelligent Design” was originally supposed to be, the heir of a philosophical tradition extending back for centuries.

    Instead, Intelligent Design (nudge nudge wink wink know what I mean know what I mean) became the latest coat of camouflage paint for Young Earth Creationism Uber Alles and nothing more.

    • Kenny Johnson says

      For the record, I was never YEC. And people like Behe actually accept common descent.

    • “Instead, Intelligent Design (nudge nudge wink wink know what I mean know what I mean) became the latest coat of camouflage paint for Young Earth Creationism Uber Alles and nothing more.

      HUG said it better than I did. I wish I could write like that.

      • The term was invented by YEC-ers to provide a veneer of plausible deniability just thick enough to make a run at squeezing a portion of Genesis into the public high school biology curriculum, not for the purposes of teaching science but to evangelize. Note, please, that attempting to “teach the controversy”, etc. is virtually unheard of in the context of college biology curricula. The more cynical among us might say that the Discovery Institute/YEC crowd are leaving colleges alone because they appreciate as much as the rest of us that those taking college level biology courses have a high likelihood of entering the field of medical and biological research, and thus have a much greater need than your average high-schooler to come out of the class with a certain level of actual competence.

        • I was in pre-med once upon a time before I married into a medical family, and took all the prescribed biology courses, including on evolutionary biology. What hit me over the head was a full year on just the operations of the single cell, and, also, standing in front of a model of a protein. This sort of thing does not just simply come together.

  11. i really liked this article , i was a strong advocate for intelligent design when i was 13. Now that i am 16 and much more well-versed in science , I cannot support it. I agree with whoever said it makes more sense as theology than it does as science.

    note: to any wondering how ID is not science , consider their lack of peer-reviewed journals.

    • Tapji,

      One problem that is had with any science is that peer-reviewed journals tend to have their own ideas of what is acceptable. The most recent winner of the Nobel prize in chemistry is for the discovery of quasicrystals. I have no doubt at all that Dan Shechtman had problems getting his initial work published, but now after they are being found in a number of places.

      As to those who wonder about the lack of results from the original theory of ID, are there truly no results, no researchers using ID to discover or no publication of such discoveries. I don’t know enough about that branch of science to even speculate on which is the predominate reason. I’m just a formulating plastics chemist.

  12. isn’t Intelligent Design the same as The Theory of Creationism???

  13. Amen. Amen.

    This is a great discussion. I’ve always understood ID to be a sort of negative theory which depends wholly on another theory. It does not stand on its own but is just a commentary and critique of evolution. If it was truly a competing theory it should be able to stand on its own with its own mechanisms and predictions. This it can’t do. And so is not truly a theory, or even science. When we get to something we don’t know, instead of saying “God did it”, we should say we don’t know, but then try to find the answer. Using God as an explanation for the unknown is bad for science and for religion. What happens if we eventually do find the answer? Does that mean there is no longer room for God?

    • As I have said below, this is not a fair representation of ID. ID is not a claim that says, “Well, if we can’t explain it, we must appeal to God.” It is rather a claim that features of the natural world give positive indications of intelligent design as opposed to random assimilation.

      Imagine that you are on a train pulling into London, and looking out the window you see an arrangement of rocks that spell out “Welcome to London.” You would assume that these rocks were arranged in such a way as to encode information in a purposeful manner, and you would rightly assume that such encoding requires an intelligent mind. You would assume that a message encoded that precisely would require personal intentionality behind it and that random assimilation could not account for it.

      The human genome is a mass of complex, encoded information. The ID argument is not, “Well, we just can’t make sense of this stuff! So let’s chalk it up to God!” It is, rather, that we CAN understand enough about this to lead us to conclude that an intelligent mind is the only reasonable explanation for the information that has been purposely encoded into it. To disregard this option from the outset is to presuppose that ONLY random explanations are admissible into the realm of possibility, a conclusion that I cannot fathom is in any way compatible with Christian theology.

      • Aaron, you are misunderstanding, I think. As a Christian, I confess my faith in “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” That theological conclusion is not a question for me. And if I were a scientist, in an ultimate sense I would give glory to God the Creator for the natural world. However, as a practical discipline, science is the study of natural processes, not the study of how God is involved with his creation (that is theology). In that sense, yes, it is a-theological.

        As I said previously, it is like mathematics. A Christian mathematician gives thanks for God’s gifts, but does not posit God as an answer when working on math problems. Similarly, the meteorologist does not say, “God is sending rain tomorrow,” though he may ultimately attribute the weather to God. He talks about the natural processes — high and low pressure systems, etc. An obstetrician may believe God gives life, but as a doctor he or she educates the parents about what is happening physically within mom’s body during pregnancy and instructs them about the process of birth.

        The scientist does not appeal to God in his or her work not because of unbelief or a presupposition that the material world is all there is, but only because he is working within the confines of trying to understand the natural processes of that material world. Therefore, a believing scientist like Francis Collins can worship God the Creator, and still study the human genome and become convinced by the evidence that common descent is the right model for understanding life’s development. This may have theological implications that we have to work through until we come to a harmonious understanding of how it all fits together, just as the church did when it received the conclusions of Copernicus.

        We keep learning. We keep trying to learn.

        • The problem with your argument is that it ignores the metaphysical assumptions behind methodological naturalism. A Christian meteorologist is not making any anti-theological metaphysical assumptions when he explains the weather in terms of natural processes, because he understands that God is providentially and purposefully directing those processes.

          When it comes to the question of origins, however, a giant metaphysical assumption enters the picture when scientists foreclose on the possibility of intelligent design from the start. They are making the assumption that all things exist by undirected processes (which is completely antithetical to Christian theology). In other words, their claim is not just that ID has it wrong; it is that we can only give credence to explanations that involve a complete lack of purpose or teleology at all.

          From what I have read (which, admittedly, may not be enough to get an accurate picture), Francis Collins appears to have an inadequate doctrine of God driven by the presupposition that divine intervention in the natural world is incompatible with the way God must have made the world (i.e., without any need for divine intervention). It is more akin to Deism than Christianity.

          • Aaron, you assume that scientists deal with the question of “origins.” They don’t — not in the philosophical or theological sense. That is outside their purview, and those who go beyond science and delve into metaphysics are not being “scientists” when they do so.

            As to your comment, “their claim is that…we can only give credence to explanations that involve a complete lack of purpose or teleology at all,” I think Extinct Existentialist said it well in his comment below — of course that is all science can do, and that is its limitation. Questions of “purpose or teleology” are philosophical and theological, not scientific questions. Science just describes the processes it can observe or deduce based on natural evidence.

  14. The argument against “God of the Gaps” isn’t new, nor is it the coup de grace the excerpts posted from Paul Wallace’s piece seem to indicate it is, except insofar as it is leaned upon by I.D.’s proponents as the linchpin for their “theory.”

    As I say to both my Christian friends who doubt evolution, and my atheist friends who doubt Christian precepts, “The evidence has driven me to accept each as the most robust available explanation for the phenomena over which each claims authority.”

  15. Wallace’s article misrepresents intelligent design, as is usual among those who oppose it. ID is most emphatically NOT an argument that incomprehensibility entails design (“God-of-the-gaps”). It is, rather, that comprehensible features of the universe imply an origin from design rather than from an undirected process.

    • I like that.

      Also, Kepler’s axiom is nice, but it does not mean that we will actually be able to comprehend and reconcile everything. And even if we think we have a workable theory is not “provable” if not is not also “falsifiable”.

      And Kepler’s work on the planetary system is in a different league altogether. His theories let him predict where planets should be at different times, i.e. this was “falsifiable”. It also allows scientists to go back and say where planets were in the past, such as in the conjunction of planets around Jesus’ birth. This whole work of Kepler is about the stability of the solar system, and not conjectures about gradual change.

      (Below is a link, kind of cute, sorry all in German, but someone might like it, it was done for the German public television for Christmas, on the star of Bethlehem, the stability of the solar system and Kepler’s work. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxTrVpvlEwA&feature=player_embedded#! )

    • As I said before, that is a theological conclusion and perfectly fine. It’s just not science.

      • Because science is necessarily atheological? Who made up that rule?

        • I think non-theological is a better word. Science is an amazing tool but a limited one. By its very nature I don’t think it can say anything either way about God.

          • So science is an autonomous human pursuit? It represents a realm of knowledge that we are to pursue apart from the fear of the Lord? It is the one area of human activity to which Proverbs 1:7 does not apply?

            (By the way, “atheological” and “non-theological” are synonyms. And my argument that there is nothing in any area of human knowledge that can truly be pursued in an atheological manner. Theological assumptions–either in submission to the lordship of Christ or in opposition to him–are always there, whether we recognize them or not.)

          • All I’m saying is that science is limited. Supernatural claims are outside of its jurisdiction. It can’t test them or recreate them in a lab. It can’t say much about them at all. Science is only able to comment on natural laws and processes that it can exhaustively observe, test, and collect evidence for. But a scientist can certainly pursue knowledge with God in mind and personally attribute the laws of the universe to God. However, that’s a theological statement based on their own understanding of the science. Science itself can’t make that claim.

  16. I think it is helpful to try to peel away ID from YEC, etc. and to place it alongside other arguments for the existence of _God_, which is, after all the original point of the effort. Having done so, one can then compare its merits with other arguments, including fine-tuning arguments.

    I’m extremely sympathetic to fine-tuning arguments. They’re not scientific, of course, but the fact that we’re in a Goldilocks universe is something I can’t personally shake off. But my point is that these fine-tuning arugments celebrate nature in its ridiculous fullness — which is what Kepler and many others since have done. By contrast, ID in its current form celebrates nature in its inadequacies: nature is amazing, just not THAT amazing!

    Another odd feature of ID is that it calls upon a Designer for the origin of complexity, but not its persistence. There are Deistic overtones here, to be sure, but thermodynamically it sounds like nothing so much as God’s having dragged us up a potential energy hill, where we now all happily hang out in Shangri-La. It’s really odd: nature is rich enough to support the complexity we see around us, but not so rich as to have natural processes that could bring it about.

  17. The specific and detailed challenges to Darwinism that are presented by the ID guys can’t be refuted by defining them out of bounds. For example, Behe’s The Edge of Evolution attempts to show with real data that undirected variation and natural selection has no creative power–can disable function but can’t create it.

  18. Klasie Kraalogies says

    I’m late to this debate, but here is my 1.5 cents: ID is a philosophical point of departure, which is used to enable the “smuggling-in” of creationism. It isnn’t, and cannot ever be, a scientific theory.

    Everything else worth saying has been said by other folks here. Special kudo’s to Martha….