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Is Intelligent Design Dead?

December 5, 2011

Is Intelligent Design Dead?


Recently, a number of critics of intelligent design have said that the intelligent design movement is, well, dead. It all started with Jason Rosenhouse’s blog post “Twenty Years After Darwin on Trial, ID is Dead.” Jerry Coyne followed up on his blog, Why Evolution Is True, agreeing with Rosenhouse’s assesment that the intelligent design movement is effectively dead. So, what’s my opinion on this?


First of all, I’d like to point out that the concept of teleology in biology isn’t dead. It’s been around for a very long time, and that concept isn’t exactly the same thing as the “Intelligent Design Movement.”

That said, back in the days when ID first came out (in the 1990s – I wasn’t an advocate of intelligent design at the time, so I’m talking from the stand point of looking back at the history of the intelligent design movement, not my own personal experience), it seemed like there were a lot of creative, original, inspired ideas going around from the ID side. “We were great,” one could say. We challenged the scientific consensus and proposed research ideas, interesting hypotheses, and explored the various ways that ID could be used to further the advance of the biological sciences. Now, however – and any unbiased observer could see this – many ID proponents are spending their time attacking Darwinian theory, instead of spending their time developing a rigorous intelligent design hypothesis that could truly make robust predictions about the living world. When I look at the posts over at UncommonDescent, it is obvious to me that a change needs to occur within the mainstream ID team. At least 50% of the posts at UncommonDescent, aren’t even remotely relevant to ID and biological origins (well, I suppose by some stretch of the imagination they could be just a tiny, tiny bit relevant). Consider the title of one of the posts at UncommonDescent: “Survey results: Only 5.3% of general philosophers of science accept or lean towards theism.” Now what on earth does theism have to do with biological intelligent design? I really don’t know. Does theism have anything to do with the theory of gravity? Not really, and if the mainstream proponents of ID are genuinely interested in developing a rigorous hypothesis of biological origins, then the theistic language will have to be dropped (or at least minimized). I mean, c’mon, UncommonDescent spends a whole bunch of time devoted to attacking atheism, promoting theism, etc. But what does this have to do with the origin of the bacterial flagellum, for example? If you’re truly interested in biological origins, then we don’t need to be sidetracked by the theism/atheism debate, which is a whole other topic.


There is, of course, the other side of the coin. Papers friendly to ID have been published by academic journals, and researchers like Doug Axe and Ann Gauger are doing some pretty cool stuff in the lab. Much of this research is devoted to discovering the limits to random mutation and natural selection, and without a rigorous intelligent design hypothesis this is the most we can expect at this point. Then there are the folks over at Telic Thoughts, which don’t get as sidetracked as UncommonDescent. The folks over there seem to be genuinely interested in biological origins, and I am glad of their often thought-provoking musings over biological origins. So, too, we have Mike Gene and his blog The Design Matrix, and here again is an example of someone sincerely interested in biological origins. Both at Telic Thoughts and The Design Matrix, we don’t get bogged down with the theism/atheism debate, or with “Neuroscientists study how mindfulness meditation helps people overcome temptation to smoke.” I am thankful for the efforts of the folks at Telic Thoughts and for Mike Gene’s The Design Matrix. These blogs represent what ID as a whole could be if the bulk of its proponents had the interest in developing ID as a rigorous biological hypothesis, instead of talking how the fossil record disproves Darwinian evolution.


In conclusion, ID is not dead, but a number of aspects of ID seem to be in decay these days. The days of the enthusiastic ID proponents thinking about research ideas seem to be waning, thanks to the efforts of UncommonDescent and the like (okay, I know I’ve been picking on you UD guys a lot). The mainstream ID community seems to be content with merely poking holes at Darwinian evolution, which is not good at all. We need to develop a rigorous biological design hypothesis that makes real, robust predictions about the living world. And for this I thank Mike Gene and the folks at Telic Thoughts for pondering over the front-loading hypothesis – a teleological hypothesis that makes real predictions. You guys still retain that creativity and sincerity and that feeling of how ID should be. And I strongly encourage those researchers like Doug Axe and Ann Gauger et al. to continue their lab work – it’s certainly needed these days. I for one, am quite interested in pursuing ID, developing it as a rigorous hypothesis, and researching the predictions made by telic hypotheses like front-loading.


No, ID isn’t dead. But it’s a bit hard to tell these days if it’s the calm before the storm or not. We need more Mike Genes, more “telic thoughts” (is that a pun or not?) and more ID researchers determined to build ID as a rigorous biotic hypothesis.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. AgnostoMan permalink
    January 8, 2012 8:57 pm

    Yeah, but when the last time Telic Thoughts had a good series of posts? 2009?

  2. don provan permalink
    November 22, 2013 6:12 pm

    The Telic Thoughts web site recently disappeared, symbolic of the continuing decline of ID in the two years since this was posted. Is there any point at which we declare that “developing a rigorous intelligent design hypothesis that could truly make robust predictions about the living world” has been sincerely attempted and conclude that it really isn’t as interesting an avenue of exploration as we had hoped?

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