The Limits Of
Intelligent Design

By Terrell E. Arnold
The universe we can see with the Hubble telescope and other tools shows us a system of grand scale and complexity. Everything as far back in time, meaning as far out into space as we can see shows us a system in constant processes of change. With the Big Bang in doubt, the system apparently displays no clear-cut sense of direction. However, the visible display, along with our own being and the nature of things around us, tells us that somewhere, in this or another galaxy, or one still to coalesce out of yet primitive matter, the conditions for life can be coming together, and other races, having acquired intelligence can be advancing to the stage of observing, questioning, mapping and interpreting their surroundings. Their conclusions are unlikely to be different from ours, because the physical laws we observe tell us that no being-aside from the supreme one-- standing anywhere in this system, has time or vision to see it all. Intelligence, anywhere in the system, is beset by the same condition: It may be unable to comprehend enough to understand the whole.
Our best tools suggest to us that localized and specific sorts of creation are a continuous condition of the universe. Of the entire universal experience, human writings, even all human thought, record a minute fraction for one small planet in a system that appears visibly unlimited.
For centuries we have struggled to define the roots of our presence here. We have failed principally because we actually know intimately very little of the large system we can see from earth. Some of the most elegant and the most pedantic arguments of mice and men have centered on this topic. We are stuck with human observations and experience. But this is not merely a Christian story. Metaphors about creation are commonplaces of the human condition. The Biblical story of creation was told to and about only one small group of people, and there were conflicting, at least different versions of creation already developed in many other communities. What, therefore, do we, can we know?
The other reason we have failed to define our roots is we have insisted that our explanations must be somehow us centered. Creationism is about "us", not really about the universe. We know that is true if we reflect for a moment that we are not bothered by the prospect that the great apes evolved from lesser creatures. We are truly unwilling to accept that people did. The truth for most Christians and many others is that creation is in no sense impersonal, because, as laid out in Genesis and other writings, people are a central part of it.
Because creationism is about us, and we are often put off by scientific attempts to explain us, people have struggled for years to find some bridging thought. Science, following the practices of discovery, explanation, demonstration, and proof through repeatability, seems to generate more discomfort than light when applied to us.
What is Intelligent Design?
Intelligent Design is an attempt to provide a theory of our beginnings that somehow embraces our science, but flows from our belief systems. It has come along when a growing list of doubts about Darwinism and the Big Bang are feeding what at root is an honest effort to find better answers for how the system got here, how it works, and how life emerges and changes within it. Intelligent Design approaches these questions with an almost William Blake mind that sees "eternity in a wild flower," while requiring Coleridge's "willful suspension of disbelief." Its claim to serious consideration is that the mere fact of ordered complexity proves intelligent design. It simply wants its subscribers to look at the orderly processes and systems that science is able to describe, and agree that those properties prove intelligent design. The indispensable next step is a leap of faith: The design itself is an act of god.
Intelligent Design starts, on one hand, with having to overcome the charge, maybe better suspicion, that it is a back-handed intellectual retreat into Creationism. On the other hand, searchers after alternatives to theories of the Big Bang and Darwinism must keep in mind that "better answers" that deny our cumulative religious experiences-and that includes all religions--are not likely to prosper. The problem here is that science and religion tend to approach the issues as adversaries.
That does not have to be. Why? Simply because the best explanation of why we are here is unlikely to be inconsistent with how we got here. It is just that our tools for getting that answer are not the same ones we use to determine where we are. Science has always been preoccupied with the how questions. Religion has focused on the why questions. We spiritually and intellectually need workable answers to both, or this debate would have no purpose.
What is wrong with the science we have?
If there is something wrong with the science we have, it probably is a matter of mindset. Bright, well-informed practitioners have found themselves excluded, in effect excommunicated from scientific ranks because they were on the wrong side of accepted theories. The Big Bang and Darwinism both have casualties to show for this. Jobs and reputations have prospered or declined on the premises of scientific opinion. In this respect, science and religion are not unlike each other, because, whatever else they involve, they are both belief systems that are strongly engaged with issues of ego, preference, and personality.
For both science and religion much of the contention is therefore not about the facts. Even in the 21st century, because it focuses on myriad technical details, science often provides answers that are too complicated for true believers. That may ever be. But the hope, from the religious side, is that there exists some Occam's razor explanation of creation, the simplest answer that covers all the facts, yet embraces our faith, if we can only find it.
What about Darwinism?
Darwinism is a serious attempt to explain what life on our planet is, what it has gone through developmentally, how creatures morphed into what they are, and what was involved in the processes of change. Darwinism embraces a body of theories about those processes, not a single theory or doctrine. To a reasonably detached observer, those theories do not challenge the existence of god; they merely contemplate and try to explain the intricacy and the nature of living things. Quite aside from the enormous task those technical issues represent, their proposal collided head on with the premises of Christian religious faith. The debate unfortunately descended into an argument over how god did it, or whether there was even god involved in it. The stumbling block was the story of creation in Genesis-a much more elegant, simple and satisfying tale that Darwinism drove into the murky darkness of metaphor.
With the information available no one could really win that one, but for an extended run the scientists won. Even so, for many the Darwin explanations have been too complex and sterile to describe the sheer marvels of life, let alone the awesome brilliance of the operating system. Nonetheless, Darwinism, as modified or emended by successive discoveries including genetics, still looks close to the mark.
What about the Big Bang?
The notion that in the beginning there was a Big Bang never actually worked as an explanation of creation. Even the most unscientific conversation about it was likely to face questions such as: Where did LeMaitre's "primeval atom" come from before it blew up? That question was most often followed by awkward silences that dribbled into a change of subject. The universe may indeed have, at one stage, had all of its matter crowed into some small-by universal standards-space. But the key is that the stuff was all there. Thus, if it had occurred, the Big Bang would have been only an episode in universal history. It therefore never explained anything about the beginning. One still had to go behind the story and explain how and why it all came together and what kind of energy burst turned it into the colossal pattern of ejecta the Hubble theory said we were observing. Meanwhile, technical objections were raised decades ago- even by Hubble himself-- about the evidence for an expanding universe that was the principal scientific argument for an explosive beginning. What was played as the beginning may now not be demonstrable even as an event.
What about Intelligent Design?
Likely demise of the Big Bang leaves us without an answer, even a dubious one, and that coincides with a time of growing pressure to teach Creationism -the Biblical theory of beginnings-in public schools. The suggested alternative to Creationism is Intelligent Design. But Intelligent Design without a designing intelligence is a wimpish suggestion. It leaves us with self-motivated alteration/creation of matter and its launch into what we know as space time. Nothing is explained by that. Thus, Intelligent Design is non-sensible with no designer. If there is a designer, we are into more than a mere philosophical quibble about whether that force capable of launching an intelligently designed universe is a god or just a superb engineer.
For this purpose, we can invent hierarchies, e.g., one designer of the broad sweep of the universe, lesser/more localized/regional designers of the galaxies or clusters, then lesser designers for solar/star systems, and yet lesser ones for planets. The ancients indeed did a fair amount of that.
There is a logic to it.
One can build a logic tree. The universe visible/patent to us is sensible. Its motions are orderly and predictable. From what we can see of it, its oddities or aberrations are themselves universal. Its overall composition is known and appears ever present. It therefore would seem to be the product of an abiding wit.
The ancients actually did pretty well at figuring out the operating system. They had lesser and fewer tools but comparable intelligence. Some of their calculations, even with water clocks, were as precise as those we currently use. They appear to have sensed or deduced much of the sweep of it without the aid of special tools we have for observing it. In many and diverse cultures of the ancient world, their best picture, by that their most all-embracing theory of the universe, led them to something like: orderly and predictable behavior means purposeful/intelligent design, and that thinking became embodied in godly manifests of a creator/manipulator.
Where are we now?
It is truly remarkable that we have not really improved much on what the ancients actually achieved. Intelligent Design is about where the ancients were when they slowly and sometimes painfully drifted into monotheism. That concept, elaborated by faiths, factions, cultural experiences, speculation, and the overlays of our various attempts at explanation, is where we are today.
Unless it can be bolstered by fact and science that so far has eluded us, there is nothing to teach about Intelligent Design except to outline the spiritual and intellectual struggle that has brought us to it. The basic flaw is that it adds nothing new to understanding. It especially adds nothing to our understanding of how things came about, work and change. Intelligent Design, admitted to our discourse without a designer, leaves us to flounder about where we long have been. Intelligent Design, admitted with the designer, would mean we have found god, but we are having trouble saying so. We will have added a term to the curriculum without a single new fact to support it. The missing link is still missing.
That quandary is a legitimate topic for philosophy courses. The proper study of science has been to explain the materials and processes of the universe. The challenge of religion has been to explain its purposes. If humanly possible, these should be complementary. They have gotten us nowhere as adversaries, but that is not an argument for merging them as Intelligent Design proposes to do.
The author is a writer and speaker on global issues and a regular columnist on
He was trained as a teacher but spent most of his professional career as an officer of the US Foreign Service. He has an AB from Stanford, a Master's and a General Secondary Teaching Credential from San Jose State University. He is a graduate of the National War College, and he served as Chairman of the National War College Department of International Studies. He will welcome comments at
From Bill Hamilton
On The Limits Of Intelligent Design -- it is something I have studied lately. I somewhat agee with the writer, but would like to point out what I have discovered so far.
First, I have discovered there are real problems with Darwin's contention
Darwin: "Natural selection can act only by the preservation and accumulation of infinitesimally small inherited modifications, each profitable to the preserved being; and as modern geology has almost banished such views as the excavation of a great valley by a single diluvial wave, SO WILL NATURAL SELECTION, IF IT BE A TRUE PRINCIPLE, banish the belief of the continued creation of new organic beings, OR OF ANY GREAT AND SUDDEN MODIFICATION IN THEIR STRUCTURE."
The problem is that numerous, infinitesimally small inherited modifications should have left numerous fossils of transitional forms, and such is lacking. The chief opponents of Darwinism were the paleontologists. The fossils they dug up were not representative of transitional forms.
There is also a problem with "stasis" - the evidence that some phyla have not changed ("evolved") in millions of years. It seems like all classes of Phyla appeared suddenly during the Cambrian explosion and no pre-Cambrian transitional fossils are in evidence. No new phyla have since appeared. There are now several books that list problems with neo-Darwinian evolution, but the problem is there is no alternative "naturalistic" theory to replace it. Apparently science does not function well without a guiding theory. Intelligent Design seems supernatural to its opponents, but is gaining ground.
The late Fred Hoyle was also an opponent of Darwinism and even expressed the idea that it was an Intelligent Universe.
According to Hoyle, ""Once we see, however, that the probability of life originating at random is so utterly minuscule as to make it absurd, it becomes sensible to think that the favorable properties of physics, on which life depends, are in every respect DELIBERATE... It is therefore, almost inevitable that our own measure of intelligence must reflect higher intelligences.. even to the limit of God."
He also said, "The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein... I am at a loss to understand biologists' widespread compulsion to deny what seems to me to be obvious."
Big Bang Cosmology also has numerous problems, however in the case of alternate theories there are "naturalistic" theories that are proposed, all with problems of their own,, but it seems that a review of Quasi Steady State Cosmology, Plasma Cosmology, and a Recycling Universe Cosmology should be considered in order to shuffle the deck. Something may come out of a review of all these cosmologies.
It seems that Intelligent Design can be tested scientifically as proposed by William Dembski. Four main positions have emerged in response to these questions: Darwinism, self-organization, theistic evolution, intelligent design. Self-organization from chaos theory seems to be a naturalistic contender to intelligent design and there are ongoing debates on these different views.
I think such discourse and challenges to theoretical science are healthy and may prevent science from getting entrenched in dogma.
Bill Hamilton
AstroScience Research
"I don't see the logic of rejecting data just because they seem incredible." Fred Hoyle



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