How do we recognize design? How do we realize that something has been put together intentionally by an intelligent agent? What is intelligent design? Our minds recognize the effects of other intelligent beings when we see the purposeful arrangement of parts, such as the letters and words in a book. Or, the intentional design of something like Mt. Rushmore. We know from our own experience that such things as books and art only come from one source, a mind. So, when we see intentionally designed systems, purposeful arrangement of parts, we know that at an intelligent agent, a mind, must be the cause. The theory of intelligent design simply says 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.
Revolutionary tells the story of biochemist Michael Behe and the revolution he helped spark with his book Darwin’s Black Box. Behe inspired a new generation of scientists and thinkers who are now challenging Darwinian evolution and exploring evidence in nature of intelligent design. Learn about Behe’s journey, how those opposed to his ideas tried to kill intelligent design in federal court, and how recent scientific discoveries have vindicated and extended his work. The Revolutionary website, at http://revolutionarybehe.com/, features more information about Dr. Behe’s research, other molecular machines, and evidence for intelligent design, and the stories of revolutionary scientists changing the evolutionary paradigm.
What is Intelligent Design?
Intelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. 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.
Through the study and analysis of a system’s components, a design theorist is able to determine whether various natural structures are the product of chance, natural law, intelligent design, or some combination thereof. Such research is conducted by observing the types of information produced when intelligent agents act. Scientists then seek to find objects which have those same types of informational properties which we commonly know come from intelligence.
Intelligent design has applied these scientific methods to detect design in irreducibly complex biological structures, the complex and specified information content in DNA, the life-sustaining physical architecture of the universe, and the geologically rapid origin of biological diversity in the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion approximately 530 million years ago.
The scientific method is commonly described as a four-step process involving observations, hypothesis, experiments, and conclusion.
Intelligent design begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI). Design theorists hypothesize that if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI. Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information.
One easily testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity, which can be discovered by experimentally reverse-engineering biological structures to see if they require all of their parts to function. When ID researchers find irreducible complexity in biology, they conclude that such structures were designed.
Not by chance: From bacterial propulsion systems to human DNA, evidence of intelligent design is everywhere
But what is this theory of intelligent design? And why does it arouse such passion and inspire such apparently determined efforts to suppress it?
According to a spate of recent media reports, intelligent design is a new “faith-based” alternative to evolution-an alternative based entirely on religion rather than scientific evidence.
As the story goes, intelligent design is just creationism repackaged by religious fundamentalists in order to circumvent a 1987 Supreme Court prohibition against teaching creationism in the public schools.
Over the last year, many major U.S. newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets have run stories repeating this same trope.
But is it accurate?
As one of the architects of the theory of intelligent design, and the director a research center that supports the work of scientists developing the theory, I know that it isn’t.
The Science Behind Intelligent Design Theory
Intelligent design begins with observations about the types of information that we can observe produced by intelligent agents in the real world. Even the atheist zoologist Richard Dawkins says that intuitively, “[b]iology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”1 Dawkins would say that natural selection is what actually did the “designing,” however intelligent design theorist Stephen C. Meyer rightly notes that, “[i]ndeed, in all cases where we know the causal origin of ‘high information content,’ experience has shown that intelligent design played a causal role.”3 Thus, like any true scientific theory, intelligent design theory begins with empirical observations from the natural world.
Critics of intelligent design have argued that although we may observe through experience that various structures are always made by intelligence, we can still argue that they were constructed by natural processes. A typical example given is the “arch” where in our experience humans make arches, but arches, such as the one found in Arches National Park, can be explained naturally. The problem here is that we have experience that some arches can be made by humans, and experience that some arches can be made through natural processes–exactly as witnessed by this one made in Arches National Park. A quick experiment with sand and water at the beach can vaguely reproduce what happened at Arches National Park, empirically verifying that natural processes can create arches. But this is no surprise. Natural arches themselves contain small amounts of information. In our experience we have no instances of specified complex information created through natural processes alone. Thus, as seen in Figure 1, intelligent design theory makes a testable prediction from observations from the natural world: that specified complex information will be found.