Intelligent Design

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken March 24, 2002

During the past decade there has been a growing movement among scientists to recognize that the universe is the product of some intelligence. These scientists think they can show that various natural phenomena were deliberately designed. They are convinced that there is good scientific evidence for a guiding intelligence behind the origin and development of life.

Many of the scientists involved in the Intelligent Design movement, as it is called, are specialists in information theory. Information theory analyzes the way that information gets communicated from one place to another. By measuring the information expressed in natural processes and in living organisms, it is possible to determine whether or not that information came from an intelligent source. Intelligent causes can do things that undirected natural causes cannot. Or at least that is what the Intelligent Design movement argues.

Several branches of science have long made use of information theory. One is archaeology. When archaeologists dig at a site, they are looking for evidence that what they are finding is the result of intelligent human activity. To give an obvious example, archaeologists have scientific certainty that the ring of giant stones at Stonehenge is not a natural occurrence, but the product of intelligent design. Forensic scientists follow much the same line of reasoning. As they investigate a crime, they are looking for patterns that expose the work of a criminal mind.

Now the basic principles of information theory are also being used in biology, chemistry, and physics. Intelligent Design theorists point out that many natural systems are too intricate to be merely the product of chance. They contain information-rich structures that can only be the product of intelligent design. For example, biologists who study genetics see that DNA contains complex specified information—exactly the kind of information produced by a designing intelligence.

Intelligent Design is a direct challenge to the reigning scientific worldview, which is Darwinism, or evolutionism. Perhaps a better word for it is naturalism. It is the belief—notice I use the word "belief"—that undirected, undesigned causes are totally responsible for the origin and development of life. The full diversity and complexity of life is produced by exclusively natural causes. So from the beginning, naturalists rule out the possibility of intelligent design because in their view, that would be unscientific. According Harvard Genetics Professor Richard Lewontin, "We exist as material beings in a material world, all of whose phenomena are the consequences of material relations among material entities." In other words, matter is all that matters. There is no God at all, or at least there is no evidence for his involvement in the universe. As Lewontin goes on to say, "We cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door" [quoted in Phillip E. Johnson, "The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism," First Things, 77 (November, 1997), 22-25].

Because it poses a direct threat to the totalizing worldview of naturalism, Intelligent Design is starting to attract more attention. It is also starting to come under attack. Members of the Ohio school board are now considering a proposal to include Intelligent Design in the state curriculum. In response, evolutionists complain that Intelligent Design is just creationism in disguise. That is hardly the case. Many Intelligent Design theorists are not even Christians, and some are not religious at all. They simply identify the evidence showing that intelligence is present without specifying the nature or identity of that intelligence. But the evolutionists are right to be worried. If there is scientific evidence for Intelligent Design, then they will have to let God back in the door—not just his foot, but the whole divine leg!

What is the value of talking about Intelligent Design? After all, as Christians we already know that the universe is designed. We know this because we know the Designer. The Scripture says:

The heavens declare the glory of God;

The skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

Night after night they display knowledge (Ps. 19:1-2).

By the intelligence of their design, the heavens bear eloquent testimony to the skill of their Designer. They have been doing this since long before anyone heard of Charles Darwin. "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made" (Rom. 1:20). But if we know that already, then why does it matter whether we can prove it by scientific means?

The answer is that Intelligent Design may be a useful tool for Christian apologetics. In addition to defending our own worldview, we have a responsibility to help other people recognize that their way of looking at the world is inadequate. Take the fabric of any non-Christian worldview, pull on its loose threads, and it will start to unravel.

That is what the Intelligent Design movement is trying to do with evolutionary naturalism. Many scientists fervently believe that the universe is the product of random chance rather than intelligent design. But if there is a way to prove that the universe is really the product of design, then the first premise of naturalism is proven false. Intelligent Design theorists are trying to offer that proof, and they are trying to do it on a scientific basis. In other words, they are trying to beat the naturalists at their own game, showing that naturalism fails on its own terms. If they can succeed in showing that there are scientific reasons to reject naturalism, then scientists and the people who listen to them will need to find a more adequate worldview, one that includes an explanation of who designed the universe the way that he did.

[For more information about Intelligent Design, read Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial, Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, or William Dembski's article "The Intelligent Design Movement," which appeared in the Spring, 1998 issue of Cosmic Pursuit. See also the Discovery Institute website: www.discovery.org].

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