Intelligent design is the theory that living things show signs of having been designed. ID supporters argue that living creatures and their biological systems are too complex to be accounted for by the Darwinian theory of evolution, and that a designer or a higher intelligence may be responsible for their complexity.
What do ID proponents believe about evolution?
Many ID proponents do not quarrel with most of Darwin's original claims about evolution. They do, however, believe that random genetic mutation and natural selection cannot account for certain biological phenomena, such as the human eye or the body's blood clotting mechanism. ID supporters argue that for these systems to arise via a gradual series of mutations is statistically impossible, which implies that a designer may have guided the process.
Is creationism the same thing as intelligent design?
No, although many critics of Intelligent Design conflate the two.
Creationism usually refers to the theory or belief that God created the universe and human beings in six days as recorded in the Bible's first book, Genesis.
In the United States today, some creationists--called Young Earth Creationists--accept the Genesis account literally and believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old, basing their calculations on the genealogies in the Hebrew scriptures. Young Earth creationists believe God created humans directly; humans did not evolve from other species.
Others, seeking to reconcile the Bible with modern science, believe that each Genesis day may have represented several billion years. (Gerald Schroeder, a physicist and Orthodox Jewish scholar, has calculated what the time spans may be.)
Intelligent design does not posit that the universe was created in six days; it does not contradict the commonly-held scientific view that the universe has been in existence for about 14 billion years. ID also does not challenge the idea that humans developed over time as a result of evolution.
However, critics of intelligent design have 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.
What are the origins of intelligent design theory?
The argument from design, as it has been known for hundreds of years, was expounded most famously by William Paley, a 19th century British theologian. Using the analogy of the watchmaker, Paley argued that 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.
Today's advocates of intelligent design maintain that while Paley's perspective was rooted in the idea of a benevolent Christian God, theirs is the outgrowth of scientific discovery, which has left some profound and fundamental phenomena, such as cell structure, unexplained. But the overwhelming majority of intelligent design advocates are Christians, and virtually all are theists.
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. But proponents of intelligent design respond by arguing that their perspective is based upon the latest scientific inquiry into the complexity of the natural order and recognition that evolutionary and other more recent scientific theory is inadequate to explain many biological and physical phenomena.
Many scientists believe that ID proponents are abandoning scientific inquiry and the scientific method by invoking design.
However, some of the most vocal supporters of intelligent design have scientific backgrounds and credentials. Prominent among them is Michael J. Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University. Behe stresses that he regards ID as a "minimalist position. 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."
Among ID proponents, there are distinctions between those who support the "old Earth position" as Behe does—he believes that the universe is 13 billion years old—and proponents of the "young Earth" position. They all share a set of assumptions about the "irreducible complexity" of some natural phenomena, if not the process of the design or the characteristics of the designer.