Background on Intelligent Design

The Edwards Supreme Court decision of 1987 struck down laws that would require “equal time” for evolution and creation science. In 1989, shortly after this decision, a supplemental textbook for high school biology called Of Pandas and People was published. It introduced the term Intelligent Design (ID), a concept promoted primarily by university-based anti-evolutionists, many of whom are not Young Earth Creationists.

ID is a descendent of William Paley’s Argument from Design from his book Natural Theology, published in 1802, which argued that God’s existence could be proved by examining his works. Paley used an analogy: He claimed that if one found an intricately contrived watch, it was obvious that it could not have come together by chance. The existence of a watch implied a watchmaker who had designed the watch with a purpose in mind. Similarly, because the world was full of intricate structures that have function, this implies that they were designed as well. The existence of God was proven by the presence of order and intricacy.

The vertebrate eye was Paley’s classic example of design, and was well known to educated people of the nineteenth century. Darwin deliberately used the example of the vertebrate eye in The Origin of Species to demonstrate how complexity and intricate design could come about through natural selection. Modern day intelligent design proponents make the same claim as did Paley, that structural complexity cannot occur through natural causes, but requires the direct hand of a designer. Intelligent Design proponents are more likely to use as examples biochemical and molecular structures than anatomical structures such as the vertebrate eye, but the argument is not greatly different. They claim that structures such as bacterial flagella, the blood clotting cascade, events such as the origin of life, and the establishment of basic body forms of animals are too complex to be explained naturally. Thus ID demands a role be left for the intelligent designer, implied but not always stated to be God.

For more details on ID, visit the NCSE website.

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