Media Backgrounder: Intelligent Design Article Sparks Controversy

Discovery Institute
September 7, 2004
Print ArticleRecently, various news agencies have reported on the growing controversy surrounding the publication of an article arguing for the theory of intelligent design in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. The Proceedings is published at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

In the article, entitled “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories," Dr. Stephen Meyer argues that the theory of intelligent design explains the origin of the genetic information in new life forms better than current materialistic theories of evolution.

The publication of a paper explicitly advocating intelligent design in such a prominent place has generated both intense interest and a fire-storm of criticism.

Below is some background information that will help you make sense of the ongoing debate in the scientific community.

Additional information can be found at website of the Proceedings editor Dr. Richard M. v. Sternberg.

Contact Rob Crowther at Discovery Institute,, to arrange interviews with Dr. Meyer, and/or a Discovery spokesperson. Click here to read Dr. Meyer's article in it entirety.

Media Backgrounder

Media Backgrounder on publication of article
advocating intelligent design in peer-reviewed journal

What is the theory of intelligent design?
The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

What does Dr. Meyer argue in the paper?
In the article Dr. Meyer argues that no current materialistic theory of evolution can account for the origin of the information necessary to build novel animal forms. He proposes intelligent design as an alternative explanation for the origin of biological information and the higher taxa.

Do advocates of intelligent design theory publish in peer-reviewed scientific literature?
Yes. Previously advocates of intelligent design have published peer-reviewed scientific books, articles in peer-reviewed scientific anthologies, and articles in peer-edited scientific conference proceedings. Additionally, design theorists such as Dr. Stephen C. Meyer and Dr. Michael Behe have recently published articles in peer-reviewed journals such as the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington and Protein Science.

There are currently several peer-reviewed articles available on the Discovery Institute website ( including:
  • “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories”, by Stephen C. Meyer, in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, August 2004
  • “Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues”, by Michael J. Behe and David W. Snoke, in Protein Science, The Protein Society August 2004
  • “Homology in Biology: Problem for Naturalistic Science and Prospect for Intelligent Design”, by Paul A. Nelson & Jonathan Wells, in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (Michigan State University Press, 2003)
  • “Self-Organization and Irreducibly Complex Systems”, By: Michael J. Behe in Philosophy of Science 67 (March 2000), University of Chicago Press
  • “Reinstating Design within Science”, by William A. Dembski, in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (Michigan State University Press, 2003)

Examples of peer-reviewed books supporting design include The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press) by William Dembski and Darwin’s Black Box (The Free Press) by Michael Behe. Additionally peer-reviewed and peer-edited books addressing design theory have appeared with Michigan State University Press and Cambridge University Press respectively. There is also a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on design theory, Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design, which has an editorial advisory board of more than 50 scholars from relevant scientific disciplines, most of whom have university affiliations.

Is intelligent design theory incompatible with evolution?
It depends on what one means by the word “evolution.” If one simply means “change over time,” or even that living things are related by common ancestry, then there is no inherent conflict between evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory. However, the dominant theory of evolution today is neo-Darwinism, which contends that evolution is driven by natural selection acting on random mutations, a purposeless process that “has no specific direction or goal, including survival of a species.” (National Association of Biology Teachers' Statement on Teaching Evolution). The theory of intelligent design specifically challenges this neo-Darwinist claim.

Is intelligent design theory the same as creationism as its critics?
No. Intelligent design theory is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the “apparent design” in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations. Design theorists, such as Dr. Meyer, develop their theories about the origins of living systems based upon scientific evidence. Intelligent design is an inference from biological evidence, not a deduction from religious authority.

Creationists also believe that the earth was created roughly 10,000 years ago and believe that flood geology explains the earth's geology. Most proponents of design believe the earth is 4 plus billion years old and reject flood geology. Both the epistemological approach and the propositional content of creationism and design theory positions are very different. It is grossly inaccurate, therefore, to mischaracterize intelligent design proponents as creationists.

Why do critics of intelligent design continue to equate it with creationism?
The charge that intelligent design is “creationism” is merely a rhetorical strategy on the part of Darwinists who wish to delegitimize design theory without actually addressing the merits of its case. In any case, labels are ultimately a diversion.

Who is Dr. Stephen C. Meyer and what are his credentials?
Stephen C. Meyer is director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, in Seattle. He earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin of life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences. Previously he worked as a geophysicist with the Atlantic Richfield Company after earning his undergraduate degrees in Physics and Geology.

Dr. Meyer recently co-edited “Darwinism, Design, and Public Education” (Michigan State University Press, 2003) and is the co-author of “Science and Evidence of Design in the Universe” (Ignatius 2002). His most recent scientific articles have appeared in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, and in scientific anthologies published by Cambridge University Press, MSU Press, and Wessex Institute of Technology press.

What is the Center for Science and Culture?
The Center for Science and Culture is a Discovery Institute program that supports the research and writing of scholars and scientists who are challenging the worldview of scientific materialism. Many of these scientists are also challenging neo-Darwinism and/or are developing the scientific theory of intelligent design. Discovery’s Center for Science and Culture has more than 40 Fellows, including biologists, biochemists, chemists, physicists, philosophers and historians of science, and public policy and legal experts, many of whom also have affiliations with colleges and universities. The Center’s Director is Dr. Stephen Meyer, who holds a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University.

What is Discovery Institute?
Founded in 1990, the Institute is a national, non-profit, non-partisan policy and research organization, headquartered in Seattle, WA. It has programs on a variety of issues, including regional transportation development, economics and technology policy, legal reform, and bioethics. The Institute’s founder and president is Bruce Chapman, who has a long history in public policy at both the national and regional levels. Mr. Chapman is a former director of the United States Census Bureau, and a past American ambassador to the United Nations Organizations in Vienna, Austria. Mr. Chapman has also served as a member of the Seattle City Council and as Washington State’s Secretary of State.