Sorry–A quick stop at Intelligent Design (Again)

A pause before I hit Global Warming. I’ve had some exchanges with others who seem to misunderstand what Intelligent Design (ID) is. ID is not just the idea that there is a creator behind the universe. ID is a fundamentalist Christian backdoor attempt to get their version of creationism taught in the schools gussied-up to look like Science. It is not a science and doesn’t even come close, but they are loud and have deep pockets—a dangerous combination anytime. There is no need to slap our beautiful Mormon doctrines and theology with such silly and ill-conceived ideas. Nor do you need to embrace such nonsense to have a faithful vision of a creator behind the universe. There are a number of faithful responses that fully embrace science (including evolution) and don’t disregard its most basic findings: For example try:

Catholic biologist Ken Miller’s Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul or his Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution;

Presbyterian minister and philosopher Rolston Holems III’s Genes, Genesis and God: Values and their Origins in Natural and Human History;

Anglican scientist and minister Arthur Peacocke’s All That Is: A Naturalistic Faith for the Twenty-First Century (literally written on his death bed–a profound expression of faith, the last chapter is worth the price of the book);

Catholic Theologian Hans Küng’s The Beginning of All Things;

Quaker historian of Science Owen Gingerich’s God’s Universe;

In all of these a profound and mature view of science and of faith is found. ID is dismissed by all of them as unnecessary and harmful, and they all believe in God and in the creation. Please don’t muddy Mormonism with such a disastrous take on the creation and science as ID proposes.

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27 Responses to Sorry–A quick stop at Intelligent Design (Again)

  1. Dave says:

    I read Gingerich’s short book quite enjoyably. I posted short quotes from the book here, in one of which Gingerich refers to ID as a “political movement” that is “misguided” when offered as an alternative scientific explanation.

    On the other hand, those pushing the agenda of the New Atheism are so aggressive vis-a-vis the public school science curriculum battles that I have considerable sympathy with those who try to get some mention of ID into the curriculum. By allowing scientific activists with an agenda to speak publicly for Science (and to publicly brand believers of any stripe as fools), scientists are not doing themselves any favors when it comes to maintaining public support and sympathy.

  2. steve says:

    It’s true Dave. It does seem like the new atheism is pushing hard, but I hope we don’t overreact . I would hate to see their agenda drive people into allowing things like ID into the schools. What they are doing is not science either. It’s faith. ID and Dawkins style atheism are a mistake and really seem like two sides of the same coin in which science itself is losing. Especially here in America where the battle is being fought. If those two are our options it is a lose-lose situation.

  3. Cap says:

    I think a large reason why people tend to float towards these ideas is simply because they are told to. They don’t ask questions, or reason. They just heard some individual in the church say it is true, and they take it as doctrine. If it sounds like it could fit then it does, and everything else is dismissed as false.

    I think there needs to be a larger awareness of how many opinions are out there, compared to actual doctrine. If people could stop and think about what is being said I think they would learn more. I am not saying that every opinion out of someones mouth is wrong, but that we should question what we hear and are taught. Then we can have a better understanding of this gospel, and how it can embrace science.

  4. richard sherlock says:

    Steve you make charges without any argument. The recommended books, one by a friend of mine are not helpful

    Miller may be a good biologist but he is a lousy theologian.

    Arthur Peacocke is pantheist, which mormonism is definitely is not

    Holmes Rolston is process theologian

    Some ID proponents are evangelical Christians. So what some evolutionary thinkers are atheists. There are many ID thinkers who are not. Do your homework. I have never been a fundamentalist of any sort yet I think ID is fine I know a number of other Mormon scientists who also do and they are not creationists of any sort One is a leading virology researcher on this campus who has signed the Discovery Institute list

  5. bobxxxx says:

    richard sherlock: “I think ID is fine”

    You think MAGIC is fine. Good for you. Just keep your MAGIC out of our schools.

    “Miller may be a good biologist but he is a lousy theologian.”

    So what? Theology is a bunch of words about nothing.

  6. Mike Parker says:

    Thanks for telling the truth about ID, Steve. ID is Creationism in a cheap suit, as the prosecution in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District showed so conclusively.

    Two beneficial links:

    Intelligent Design on Trial

    Attack of the Super-Intelligent Purple Space Squid Creators

    It’s one thing to believe that God is an “intelligent designer” with a purpose for mankind. It’s quite another to fall in line with the “cdesign proponentsists” and their attempt to get their religious views into the science classroom through the back door.

  7. DCL says:

    I don’t think anyone can clarify these points enough, Steve. Thanks for this.

  8. Alexander says:

    I’m totally confused by your comment. I don’t see that Steve has made any “charges” against proponents of ID that misrepresent ID as it most often appears. As for your assertion that none of the books are helpful, wouldn’t it be more helpful for you to explain why you feel that way? I read Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God” and am wondering why you consider him a “lousy theologian”. If you have done your homework, please elaborate so maybe there can be an actual discussion.
    Also, I assume that you are at BYU… could you tell us what your criteria are for a classifying someone as a “leading virology researcher” since I am aware of none that would qualify by any typical measure. No disrespect to the virologists that are there, but I suspect they would agree with me. Furthermore, your implication that a significant number of Mormon life scientists sympathize with the ID movement is untrue in my opinion.

  9. richard sherlock says:

    I am not at BYU. I am at Utah State and we do have a first rate animal virology program.I don’t know about about Mormon life scientists in general. I do know several who do like ID , see Frank Salisbury’s recent book he likes Behe’s work a lot. There are many life scientists with strong Phds who don’t agree that evolution explains all.

    On the books. Peacocke as I said is a panentheist or pantheist. This comes from a long personal conversation and reading his books. Holmes Rolston is mostly a process theologian , again from reading his books and several long conversations. He is a friend. Here is Miller’s problem and the problem of many. They argue that God set up the natural world and uses evolution as his way of creating what he wants. But does he intervene in ways we can observe over against what we understand nature alone to be able to do. Christianinity says yes: miracles, resurrection. If this is granted as serious Christians must then why should we assume that evolution, however understood technically, as a completely natural process , explains all of the natural world. If Miller denies knowable interventions then I think that is not serious Christian theology. If he thinks there are intervetions but they cant be known then what does he do with the resurrection or what do we do with the visit of Christ to the new world. If we believe that God comes into history now, i.e. this is the whole point of the idea of continuous revelation then why should we a priori dismiss divine intervention in the natural world
    Finally I would like to say that the idea that ID is creationism is just plain false. Many, if not most, of us who are ID people do not accept much of anything from young earth creationists. I personally accept the ancient earth, death way before the coming of humans, common descent. What I reject are two things 1 that random variation and natural selection explains all of the development and 2 that we should assume that only material and efficient causes ( 2 or Aristotle’s 4) are the only ones we can use. Why must we exclude God as a causal agent in nature? This is not science it is metaphysics. And a bad one

  10. steve says:

    Ironically, I know of no member of BYU’s Biology department that thinks ID is a good idea. BYU has an internationally recognized group of evolutionary biologists. In fact, (and this is anecdotal and I got it second hand so take it for what it is worth) at the Dover trial in a side meeting evolutionary biologist Alan Templeton said, “If you want to see how to integrate science and religion, look to BYU, they do it right.” (One of Alan Templeton’s students is on the faculty at BYU).

    In physics we don’t need God intervening to hold the planets in orbit. Why demand an interventionist God for those aspects of the universe that unfold biologically? As I said in my earlier post:

    However, this is not what bothers me about the Intelligent Designers’ designer. Recall that intelligent design makes no religious claims about a God (mostly, to distance itself from young-earth creationists), it claims only that the universe has an intelligent designer. But let’s look a little more closely at the designer they are proclaiming. The designer they envision is really quite a bumbling ner-do-well—a limited dabbler who has to keep sticking is finger into the pot to get things going. The designer in Intelligent Design is more like a grand tinkerer. No grand designer here who can create a universe that unfolds, develops and grows. No, the designer in Intelligent Design cannot seem to manage that. He has to keep nudging things in the directions he needs them to go, making course corrections here and there, fixing errant processes that can’t seem to stay on task, backing up and starting over when things go astray. The designer in Intelligent design seems more reminiscent of one of Harry Potter’s classmates in a potions class, who has to keep adding a bit of this and a dab of that trying to keep the potion just so. I find this version of the designer unappealing and nothing like the God who I envision. I often ask my students which of the two computer programmers is the greatest: The one who creates many video games, but which require constant intervention and fixes, endless updates, and repeated patches, or the programmer who has created a program from which the command ‘Go’ creates spontaneously a myriad of video games of infinite variety and depth? You pick.

    The trouble with ID is you can’t do science with it. It declares thing irreducibly complex by fiat (and yes I am aware that Dembski has tried to set up criteria by which to judge it—just in case I’m perceived not to have done my homework again, which was a common accusation in my grade school years and was probably accurate then—it’s just he fails) and in every example that Behe and others have come up with there are reasonably evolutionary pathways that make it possible. Behe has fundamental misunderstandings of the way evolution works.

    In the history of human thought an intervening God is often introduced to fill explanatory gaps. “Ah this is too hard to figure out so God must have intervened.” The trouble is this creates the God of the Gaps problem and as these explanatory gaps are filled God’s role becomes smaller (for example arguments that the Cambrian explosion was too fast for evolution to have driven the changes are being turned over by new insights in how development and genetics interact. Those who posited God’s intervention in that action now have to retreat). There are lots of questions science may never answer—consciousness generally considered one of these (see my article on Consciousness published a few years ago on the right panel).

    So does this mean God does not intervene in the world? Of course he does. In human history, to answer prayer, there are many examples. The idea that life unfolds as evolution suggests does not exclude specific miracles, but the assumption that they are necessary to get the universe working right seems a bold unwarranted claim. Mostly God seems to come into the world through Human consciousness and action, although I’m not ruling out more direct interventions. But for the unfolding of the universe, just as for the motion of the planets, there is no reason to expect that our science can’t answer and explore the way life’s processes have unfolded. To assume we can or should claim that at this place in the fossil record God must have intervened, or at this point in evolution God directed this action seems ill-advised. It’s not science anyway.

    I would also like to point out that despite Richard’s suggestion that those of other Faiths don’t have anything to offer because they come from process theology backgrounds, or have different theological commitments, or are scientists trying to wrestle with theological problems (and are usually not trained theologians) should be excluded from theological conversation, is just plain wrong. I think we have much to learn from one another. I am blessed by their thoughtful and respectful treatment of deep and difficult matters of Faith even if Richard is not. And actually Richard I’m blessed by your thoughtful explorations. You do make me think.

  11. Cap says:


    How are you comparing evolution to miracles and resurrection? Or Christ coming to the New world? Evolution has nothing to do with those things. You are trying to intertwine two topics that have nothing to do with eachother.

    Of course Christ came to America, and he preformed many miracles during his ministry, both in Jerusalem area, and the Americas. He was resurrected. He appeared to Joseph Smith… How is this disproving evolution?

    Evolution is not a branch of Theology! Evolution is a science. It does not take away from religious beliefs. The two can complement eachother. You can accept both easily. However, your argument that resurrection, etc. disproves evolution does not make sense and any form. The evolving of the natural world has nothing to do with Joseph kneeling in a grove and God appearing to him. Of course God is going to ‘intervene’ in the world… so His gospel can progress.

  12. Clark says:

    Not much to add. Others made most of the points I was going to.

    Even if you believe in an interventionist God I don’t see the appeal of ID. It seems a solution in search of a problem. Let’s say God does intervene but it’s by modifying the environment knowing how evolution proceeds. That completely answers Sherlock’s theological demands but requires no need for ID.

    The complexity issues have all been mathematically resolved. So it’s just not clear in the least what problem ID is attempting to solve.

  13. richard sherlock says:

    Don’t get me wrong. I think we have a geat deal to learn from other religious traditions> After all I was the first Mormon anyone can remember to get a graduate degree from Harvard Divinity school. I was just asked what I thought was wrong with the books just mentioned. Mormonism is not pantheism or process theology. I think those writers are wrong not that we should not study them. I have said what I think is wrong with Ken Miller and I could do so at geater length. Cap I think you misunderstand. I was using those examples to show that Mormonism requires a God who can and does intervene in the natural world in knowable ways. After all Paul speaks of over 500 witnesses who saw the resurrected Christ. That is far more than saw the assasinated by of Cicero yet we have little doubt that Cicero was assasinated. So if God intervenes in the actual physical world, why should we keep Him out of the biological world. Many physicists are arguing that the complex anthropic regularities of the moment of the big bang are evidence of a designing creator see Barr, Polkinghorne, Barrow, Tipler and many others etc. Francis Collins in his new book accepts this. So why not do this in biology. I see now reason not to. Judge Jones in the Dover trial was pathetic at the most crucial point. He said we have to keep god out of science by “definition and convention” this is breathtakingly stipulative. It amounts to this ” since science for the last several centuries has excluded religion we should keep doing so” This is not an argument it is nonsense and prejudice masquerading not as a argument ( it is not ) but a judicial fiat. I am not demanding a specific intervention by God I am only saying that we should allow for this. If we must recognise design in nature as we must and none of you dispute this then we need to develop a metric to do so. Dembski developed a powerful one in both the Design Inference and No Free Lunch. The latter has a serious engagement with Sober but if you don’t know a lot of math your eyes will glaze over from either Sober or Dembski. What do you mean “cant do science with it ” I have named several sciences that are based on design recognition : archeology, paleontology, SETI, forensics. Inference to the best explantion is almost universal in science. What you mean I think is that Divine action should never be invoked as a “best explanation” in biology. But if you admit Divinie intervention in miracles then you have given up this
    never invoke God idea. If you admit that science will never explain consciousness with cognative neuroscience models. Then you have admited that material explnations are inadequate for some phenomena we observe. Lets then take a case of a highly complex biological phenomena that we cannot explain how it came to be. You say ” we cant explain it now. and right now we don’t know how to proceed but trust me a naturalistic explaination will be found.” I say ” why shouldn’t we say that God had a hand in it. Therefore no purely natural explanation will suffice” . You appeal to as yet unkown causal pathways I do. Why is mine any less worthwhile. Actually I thjink is better in one way. The phenomena looks designed. Your alternative turns us away from how it looks mine says yes we can see it is designed, there is a designer. Two last things. I do not think BYU has solved the riddle, what they have done is very nicely compartmentalize themselves from the debate. I congratulate you steve for going in so boldly where others wont go. Design does not stop us from futher inquiry. But it does get us to the question that Aristotle thought was most important purpose

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  15. Alexander says:

    Certainly our current understanding of evolution does not ‘explain all’, otherwise us biologists wouldn’t have jobs!

  16. jhayes says:

    I guess I am a newcomer as far as comments go, but I’ve been watching this blog pretty much from the beginning because I get amused watching gary from no death before the fall argue wherever he goes. in any case, I am an lds college student (anthropology major) who wholeheartedly embraces evolution as the answer to how, and not the answer to why. ID has spread through this country using the same mechanisms for creating contention that global warming skeptics have been using for years. take for example the propaganda machine that is the discovery institute and their teach the controversy campaign. what controversy? if there is a controversy, its not among biologists, anthropologists, or zoologists; ie those qualified within their fields to make such postulations. credentialed ID supporters who are qualified to make statements on the subject are few and far between. actually, i have yet to personally meet one. ive met a geologist who believed in intelligent design but he is no more qualified to speak on evolutionary science than i am on quantum physics. ultimately the root of the problem is faults within the science curriculum on a national level. ID proponents tend to exploit ignorance of how the scientific method works, particularly on the subject of what constitutes a hypothesis and a hunch. they give us nothing to test so how can their musings be considered anything more than a hunch? the same principle applies to the new atheism movement and if you push him hard enough (and believe me, you have to push him really really hard because he must have dodged it 20 times before conceding, and unfortunately not to me), richard dawkins will admit it as he did at caltech when he was on his book tour for The God Delusion. secondly, they avoid peer reviewed journals like the plague and instead hawk their materials to the public as if there was some kind of academic consensus behind it. the institution of scholarly journals dates back to the 17th century (albeit in a primitive form), and yet ID seems to think its immune to submitting their papers to say, nature or science. oh wait, in order to get something published in a journal it has to follow the scientific method. kind of hard to do when you dont have a testable hypothesis in the first place. could that be why their “research” goes from the Discovery Institute straight to the bookshelves of a Barnes & Noble? sorry, thats not how science works. when it comes down to it, ID is all sensationalism with no substance.

  17. steve says:


    Thanks for the bit about Dawkins! Very interesting. I appreciate your response. Also, very nicely said. I completely agree, ID does not attract the people actually involved in the data of evolution. Behe is a biochemist and Dembski a mathematician.

    Cap you are a regular here too and I just wanted to pass on ho much I appreciate your insights into science and faith and your obvious commitment to both.

    Clark, you are right, Dembski’s no free lunch as been set to rights by very competent mathematicians. In fact, I just reviewed a mathematical critique of Free Lunch arguments. It comes out in one of philosophy of biology’s most important journals. I’ll post the link when it comes out.


    I think if we sat down for Lunch (maybe even a free one–I’ll buy (I’m in Vienna now but when I return for winter semester)) we would find far more to agree on than disagree. Maybe, with a more back and forth conversation I could convince you that ID really isn’t a necessary commitment for Mormon thought. Maybe not, but I think we would find our spiritual commitments very similar, and maybe we could work from there.

    [For those of you reading these exchanges: Richard has a very nice write up on ID at FARMS (click here). He lays out a nice map of what the landscape looks like in theological design issues. Of course, I disagree with this conclusion that ID is good for Mormonism, but this is still a nice piece on what the issues are and what needs to be resolved.)]

  18. Cap says:


    “…if God intervenes in the actual physical world, why should we keep Him out of the biological world.”

    Nothing is stopping him from intervening in the biological world, but there is no need for him to, and I do not believe him to be a God of pointless actions.

    The gospel is a different playing ground. There are different rules. I don’t think we should ever assume that because he “intervenes” in the world to progress his gospel, he would have to do the same to progress nature.


    Thank you for that. I couldn’t have put it better.

  19. Tim says:

    Two problems with the “God of the Gaps”/ID issue:
    First, it stops science. When we say, “We can’t explain it, so that means God did it as a miracle,” our increase of knowledge stops right there.
    Second, when science does fill in the gap, those who’s faith was based on that gap start doubting.
    ID harms both religion and science.

  20. S.Faux says:


    I am with you all the way. Our beautiful LDS doctrines are diminished whenever they are allowed to be connected to obvious falsehoods. Those who wish to do battle with the science of evolution have LOST the battle before they even start. I really DO hope that our Church can be above the fray and NOT waste its time on nonsensical claims. So far we have done pretty good as a Church, but the many anti-science bloggers out there in the LDS blogosphere have me a little worried about the possible misdirections we could go.

    I actually find evolutionary facts uplifting and inspiration. This world has an amazing history. I am tempted to say I am amazed at the presence of humans on the earth, but I know we have a great purpose — I learned that last point about purpose from Sunday School, not science.

  21. steve says:

    I too have found evolution an amazingly beautiful process, S.Faux, and that’s exactly right, there are things we can learn in Sunday School that science can never teach us. And the reverse is true too. I think we need both.

    Two good points Tim.

  22. Mark D. says:

    You are playing fast and loose with the word “is” here. One would be nearly as accurate stating that evolution “is” a theory designed to give intellectual comfort to atheists.

    In short, you are practicing guilt by association and confusing political, educational, and philosophical issues.

  23. richard sherlock says:

    I tyhink we would find much overlap An I think a sort of debate/ opening discussion before an audience would be helpful sometime. I have just finished Ken Millers very new book Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. I disagree with most of it but finally he gets to the foundational issues. His discussion of ID is, as usual technically interesting but mistaken and his long dicussion of the Dover decision is very bad and has many ad hominum attacks. But After reading it I now know where the theological weakness is. Miller says that what ID wants is a “theistic” science in which God is part of the explanatory toolkit. He thinks this would be bad for science just saying “god did it” is insufficient. This move is partially right. Ithink ID’s bigger target in materialism where matter isn’t defined stipuatively but is though of in the way we normally do.

    But here is the point for Ken Miller who is a Catholic. Since I was a professor of theology at a leading catholic university, Fordham, ( we had a Ph.d Program) While I was in our branch presidency I think I know as much about Catholic theology as an Mormon.

    To be cannonized as a saint in the Catholic Church you have to have two
    empirical miracles demonstrasted. You also have to have your character and theology certified by a theological commission. In the process some to argue the case for and another to argue against are appointed. The process is very rigorous. Consider just one recent case In the early 1980s a woman from Massachusetts had suffered for over 20 years from progressively worsening lymphedema. Sh has had 50 operations and due to uncontrolled swelling one leg had already been amputated. Doctors were recommendation.. The diagnosis and progress were confirmed by a number of doctors and specialists. She and her husband felt that they should go to Poland and pray at the grave of a nun being considered for sainthood. When she returned to the US the disease had completely disappeared. This was confirmed by extensive tests. Then the evidence was extensively reviewed by a panel of medical experts appointed by the vatican. In some cases the panel turns away cases. But this one they agreed was a “miracle” from medical point of view, i.e. a true divine intervention. The diagnosis originally was solid. No natural cause cause could have produced the complete disappearance of the disease. Hence the best explanation is specific divine intervention. These sorts of cases we hear about in mormonism regularly and I know very specifically of one. Now does this sort of investigation which is medical/scientific employ Divine agency in an explnantory role. Surely . Isn’t this what Miller explicitly doesn’t want. But to reject it is to reject part of his own faith. I think the same is true for mormonism. Can anyone show me how the Catholic rigorous test for miracvles is wrong or the conclusion wrong. I do not think so.

    Why does the Gospel require “different rules” what rules are these?

    S. Faux why are you so convinced that evolution is so true. Materialism in its normal sense is not true, there is far too much good data showing it is not and Steve admits this with his comment that consciousness will never be expalined materially Also you need be careful about what is “evolution”What makes you so convinced.

  24. Clark says:

    It’s not at all clear to me what the mind-body issue has to do with evolution. Even evolution proponents don’t think evolution describes everything. They just think it is correct about what it describes which puts it at odds with ID. But things like non-DNA based inheritance which seems more Lamarkian than Dawinian clearly is a factor in biology. I suspect this will just expand the notion of evolution much like Maxwell’s laws became part of mechanics. But certainly epigenetics goes well beyond traditional Dawinism. The whole “Darwin, Darwin” cry always struck me as odd. No one in discussion about physics – even before Einstein – demanded that Newton be the be all of physics.

  25. Clark says:

    To add, I find the typical discussion of physicalism amazingly problematic. (Interestingly Blake and I are discussing this at my blog. But I honestly just don’t see the relevance for the physicalist/materialist debate to evolution. They seem quite orthogonal discussions.

  26. Gary Carlson says:

    I’d like to suggest rereading D&C 59:19-21 as preparation for thinking about the Lord’s involvement in creating and sustaining the world we live in. We should be grateful for what we have however he did it, and perhaps humble enough to expect that even our favorite theory may not tell the whole story.
    I’m just a physicist, but I have read Behe’s books and it seems to me there is more science in there than you are giving him credit for. One thing I liked is that he is trying to connect biochemistry with evolution and deal with measures of mutation rates and probabilities of multi-mutation pathways for development of new biological structures. Those seem to me to be critical elements needed to convert present theories of evolution into something more quantitative.
    Regarding the argument that it belittles the Lord to think of him tinkering with all the little steps in the evolution of life, I would say he could carry out his intelligent design work in a much more elegant way. On this earth alone (and it is one of many he has peopled) thousands of biologists have died and gone to their eternal reward. Now they each need a work assignment. If I were in charge, I’d ask them to study up on bio-chemistry and send them out to do the tinkering in the new worlds being prepared for people.

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