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Intelligent design is a term used to describe the claim that nature shows clear evidence of being by design of a cosmic intelligence.[1] The term is used in discussions about whether there is a benign deity that manages nature with an interest in humanity.[2]

Since the 1980s, the term has become most strongly associated with the Intelligent Design Movement, a creationist activist group based in the United States who have claimed for legal reasons that the term does not necessarily imply religion. All the leading proponents of the intelligent design movement are associated with the Discovery Institute and believe the designer to be the Christian deity. But as part of their largely unsuccessful campaign to have creationism taught in the science courses of public educational systems their anti-Darwinian biology textbook Of Pandas and People, published in 1989, made thematic use of the term "intelligent design", along with related terms, which was in fact the result of a decision during drafting to find ways to avoid the term "creationism".[3]

As a result, despite the claims of the movement, it is because of the movement itself that the term "intelligent design" is now most strongly associated with anti-evolutionary creationism, although it is still used in more general discussion of arguments for a benign intelligence responsible for cosmic order going back to ancient Greece. Such arguments for the existence of God, known collectively by terms such as the "Argument from Design", or "Teleological Argument", continue to be found in many different variants, including Aristotelian Neo-Thomist arguments which are influential in the doctrine of the Catholic church. Although Thomas of Aquinas constructed a separate argument for creation, his argument from intelligent design was otherwise essentially taken over from Aristotle who was not Christian, and did not believe that the cosmos had been created at any particular point in time.

The intelligent design movement's particular creationist argument, is emphatically anti-evolutionary and essentially the same modern version as that of William Paley, and is considered untenable in natural science.[4][5] Natural scientists instead seek to explain the entire natural world with reference to purely natural processes.[6] Its large scale structure is to be explained by Big Bang cosmology, and the diversity of life is explained as the result of evolution. The few natural scientists who seek to give scientific justification for intelligent design are fringe elements of the wider community, and their work is dismissed as pseudoscience.[7][8]

On the other hand, thinkers who argue for intelligent design outside of the disciplines of natural science ground their arguments in theological or metaphysical considerations rather than biology.[9][10] Such thinkers may employ, in particular, teleological arguments.[11] Most philosophers now reject such arguments, however. Many credit the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume with having refuted them.[12]


Classical and medieval thought[edit]

Presocratics, Socrates, Plato[edit]

The concept of intelligent design appears to have begun with Socrates.[13][14][15]

The proposal that the order of nature showed evidence of having its own "intelligence" goes back to the origins of western natural philosophy and science, and its attention to the orderliness of nature, often with special reference to the revolving of the heavens. (The Greek word "cosmos" which was introduced in this time means an ordering, and already implies intelligence.) Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, born about 500 BC, is the first person who is definitely known to have explained such a concept using the word "nous" (which is the original Greek term that leads to modern English "intelligence" via its Latin and French translations). Aristotle reports an earlier philosopher from Clezomenae named Hermotimus who had taken a similar position.[16] Amongst Pre-Socratic philosophers before Anaxagoras, other philosophers had proposed a similar intelligent ordering principle causing life and the rotation of the heavens. For example Empedocles, like Hesiod much earlier, described cosmic order and living things as caused by a cosmic version of love,[17] and Pythagoras and Heraclitus, attributed the cosmos with "reason" (logos).[18] In his Philebus 28c Plato has Socrates speak of this as a tradition, saying that "all philosophers agree—whereby they really exalt themselves—that mind (nous) is king of heaven and earth. Perhaps they are right." and later states that the ensuing discussion "confirms the utterances of those who declared of old that mind (nous) always rules the universe".[19] But the proposal of a cosmic intelligence is not yet the same as the concept of a cosmic "designer", with a special relationship to humanity.

The connection of the word for "design" into these discussions, with the the intelligence of nature being compared to a human craftsman, apparently begins with Socrates, whose discussions on this and other matters, were reported by his students Plato and Xenophon as well as indirect sources such as Plato's student Aristotle. Both Xenophon and Aristotle remarked specifically that going into the market place and asking questions of craftsmen was a new approach Socrates took to philosophy, in contrast to predecessors, and it is consistent with this them that both Plato and Xenophon use the word demiurge (craftsman) to describe the intelligent being responsible for the natural order.[20] Xenophon's report in his Memorabilia might be the earliest clear account of a argument that there is evidence in nature of intelligent design.[13] The word traditionally translated and discussed as "design" is gnōmē and Socrates is reported by Xenophon to have pressed doubting young men to look at things in the market, and consider whether they could tell which things showed evidence of gnōmē, and which seemed more to be by blind chance, and then to compare this to nature and consider whether it could be by blind chance.[14][15] In Plato's Phaedo, Socrates is made to say just before dying that his discovery of Anaxagoras' concept of a cosmic nous as the cause of the order of things, was an important turning point for him. But he also expressed disagreement with Anaxagoras' understanding of the implications of his own doctrine, because of Anaxagoras' materialist understanding of causation. Socrates complained that Anaxagoras restricted the work of the cosmic nous to the beginning, as if it were uninterested and all events since then just happened because of causes like air and water.[21] Socrates, on the other hand, apparently insisted that the demiurge must be "loving", particularly concerning humanity. (In this desire to go beyond Anaxagoras and make the cosmis nous a more active manager, Socrates was apparently preceded by Diogenes of Apollonia.[22]) In the Phaedo, Socrates seems to suggest that he also failed to develop a fully satisfactory teleological account of the active and loving ordering of nature by an intelligent design.

Finding such a teleological account of the cosmos and humanity became a mission of the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, both of whom worked on complex conceptions of causality, and could explain how nature has both a fixed order, but also shows concern with good ends related to what is good for humanity. In the case of Aristotle, this concept was logically developed in his Metaphysics wherein he came to the conclusion that the "first cause" of all motion must work differently than all normal causes, effectively outside of time. This type of causation came to be referred to as emanation.

Later classical[edit]

Epicurus? Stoics? Plotinus (demiurge makes a comeback)? Augustine?

Aristotle, Plotinus, medieval doctrines[edit]

up to Aquinas "fifth way"? (continues in Catholic Thomism, which some oppose to Paley and DI)

Renaissance to the Enlightenment[edit]

Bacon, Hume, Kant, to Paley

According to Massimo Pigliucci, Paley was the last representative of advocacy for intelligent design in biology that was serious in its time.[23] Since Paley's theories were rejected, all intelligent design theories in biology have been rightly regarded as pseudoscientific.

Natural theology[edit]

Early evolutionary ideas[edit]

Vestiges of creation[edit]

On the Origin of Species[edit]

Charles Darwin's discussions with Asa Gray[edit]

Mivart and the Duke of Argyll[edit]


Modern evolutionary theory[edit]

Modern cosmology[edit]

Other considerations[edit]


  1. ^ Ariew 2008, p. 180.
  2. ^ Boudry, Blacke, Braeckman 2010, p. 231.
  3. ^ Nick Matzke. National Center for Science Education. NCSE Resource; 2004 [Retrieved 2007-09-24].
  4. ^ Boudry 2013, p. 1221.
  5. ^ Padian & Matzke 2009.
  6. ^ Boudry, Blacke, Braeckman 2010, p. 228-229.
  7. ^ Pigliucci 2007, p. 14 & 185.
  8. ^ Ruse 2005, p. 278-279.
  9. ^ Ariew 2008, p. 162.
  10. ^ Plantinga 2011, p. 12.
  11. ^ Ratzsch 2010.
  12. ^ Sober 2003, p. 42-43.
  13. ^ a b Ahbel-Rappe, Sara, Socrates: A Guide for the Perplexed, p. 27 .
  14. ^ a b McPherran, Mark (1996), The Religion of Socrates, The Pennsylvania State University Press , pp. 273-275
  15. ^ a b Sedley, David (2007), Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity, University of California Press .
  16. ^ Metaphysics I.4.984b.
  17. ^ Kirk; Raven; Schofield (1983), The Presocratic Philosophers (second ed.), Cambridge University Press  Chapter X.
  18. ^ Kirk; Raven; Schofield (1983), The Presocratic Philosophers (second ed.), Cambridge University Press . See pages 204 and 235.
  19. ^ 28c and 30d. Translation by Fowler.
  20. ^ A History of Greek Philosophy, Volume 5, The Later Plato and the Academy  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  21. ^ 97-98. Also see Ahbel Rappe.
  22. ^ Ahbel-Rappe, and Kirk, Raven and Schofield.
  23. ^ Pigliucci 2007, p. 14.

Works cited[edit]

  • Ariew A. Teleology. In: Hull D, Ruse M (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to Philosophy of Biology. Cambridge University Press; 2007. p. 160-181.
  • Boudry M. Alvin Platinga: Where the Conflict Really Lies [book review]. Science and Education. May 2013;22(5):1219-1227.
  • Boudry M, Blacke S, Braeckman J. How Not to Attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical Misconceptions About Methodological Naturalism. Foundations of Science. 2010;15(3):227-244.
  • Godfrey-Smith P. Information in Biology. In: Hull D, Ruse M (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to Philosophy of Biology. Cambridge University Press; 2007. p. 103-119.
  • Kohn D. Darwin's Keystone: the Principle of Divergence. In: Ruse M, RJ Richards (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to the Origin of Species. Cambridge University Press; 2009. p. 87-108.
  • Padian K, Matzke N. Darwin, Dover, ‘Intelligent Design’ and textbooks. Biochemical Journal. 2009;417:29-41.
  • Pigliucci M. Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk. University of Chicago Press; 2010.
  • Pigliucci M, Kaplan J. Making Sense of Evolution: The Conceptual Foundations of Evolutionary Biology. University of Chicago Press; 2006.
  • Plantinga A. Where the Conflict Really Lies. Oxford University Press; 2011.
  • Richards RJ. Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection and Its Moral Purpose. In: Ruse M, RJ Richards (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to the Origin of Species. Cambridge University Press; 2009. p. 47-66.
  • Ruse M. The Evolution Wars: A Guide to the Controversies. Rutgers University Press; 2001.
  • Ruse M. The Evolution-Creation Struggle. Harvard University Press; 2005.
  • Ruse M. Dawinism and Its Discontents. Cambridge University Press; 2008.
  • Sober E. Evidence and Evolution: The logic behind the science. Cambridge University Press; 2008.
  • Sober E. The Design Argument. In: Manson NA. God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science. Routledge; 2003. p. 47-66.
  • Stenger VJ. God: The Failed Hypotheis: How science shows that God does not exist. Prometheus Books; 2008.