Q & A: What is Intelligent Design?

A national debate has hit the roof over how evolution should be taught in the state’s public schools.

Here are some often asked questions and answers about Intelligent Design:

What is Intelligent Design?

Intelligent design is the theory that the complexity and organization of life are evidence of the living things having been designed, calling on an intelligent creator or designer that may be responsible for their complexity.

Where was the theory originated?

It comes from prehistoric design argument expounded by British theologian William Paley in the 19th century using the analogy of the watchmaker – “just as we infer a watchmaker from the complex workings of a pocket watch, we must infer a creator of the universe from the complex systems of the natural order.”

The advocates of intelligent design claim that while Paley’s argument was based on Christian God, their perspective is the product of scientific discovery, which has left behind some profound and fundamental phenomena unexplained. Majority of intelligent design advocates are Christians and nearly all are theists.

What do ID proponents believe about evolution?

While many ID proponents do not disagree with most of the original claims about evolution, they do believe that “random genetic mutation and natural selection” cannot be an explanation for certain biological phenomena, such as the human eye or the body's blood clotting mechanism. They argue that it is “statistically impossible” for such systems to occur through such natural processes, which implies that a designer may have guided the process.

How does intelligent design differ from creationism?

Although many critics of ID combine the two theories, creationism usually refers to the theory or belief that God created the universe and human beings in six days as recorded in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. As some creationists accept the Genesis account literally, thus believing that earth is less than 10,000 years old, others, seeking to reconcile the Bible with modern science, believe that each Genesis day may have represented several billion years.

ID does not speculate nor contradict either position about the age of the earth. As some creationists believe humans did not evolve from other species, but were created directly by God, ID does not challenge the idea that humans developed over time as a result of evolution.

What do critics say about intelligent design?

Some critics equate intelligent design theory with the so-called "God of the gaps" fallacy—resorting to a divine intelligence to explain the existence of natural phenomena for which we have no scientific explanation. Some opponents have also called it "creationism in a lab coat," saying that to point to an intelligent designer as the cause of certain biological systems is to abandon scientific inquiry. They argue that, over the decades, science has frequently closed "gaps" and explained previously inexplicable phenomena.

Who are the most vocal supporters of ID?

Many of the strong advocates of ID are prominent individuals with scientific backgrounds and credentials including Michael J. Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University. Behe regards ID as a "minimalist position,” saying “it only requires that there be physical evidence of an intelligence behind creation of complex natural systems. Who did the creating, or why, comprise a separate set of questions."

The intelligent design debate centers on three issues: First, whether the definition of science is broad enough to allow for theories of human origins which incorporate the acts of an intelligent designer; second, whether the evidence supports such theories; third, whether the teaching of such theories is appropriate in public education.