Is promoting ID a waste of time?

I have come to the conclusion that basing your faith on evidence for intelligent design is a horrible idea, and the same goes for any argument based on scientific cosmology (which is not to say all cosmological arguments) and which turns God into a scientific hypothesis. At most you can only be agnostic about the existence of God through this evidence, and at worst you have a very fragile faith which can collapse as soon as our scientific paradigms change.

So if its a terrible apologetic tool, what use is it?


As a boundary marker. Obviously I do not know and cannot make claims about the motivations of all the people involved in promoting origins theories that make God into a scientific proposition. But at the very least, and especially the more dogmatically the ideas are presented, it can give followers a strong sense of being on the “winning” team and holding superiority over those who may mock the faith (even if it’s for reasons other than the existence of God).


Originally it was a way to sneak creationism into US public school classrooms.


I would never make a positive case for Christianity from intelligent design. I concur that this is problematic for the reasons you mention.

However, if ID’s validity could be demonstrated, then it could logically be used to delegitimize naturalistic atheism.

Additionally, however, one should embrace ideas, scientific or otherwise, because they are true, not because they are useful. I personally am sympathetic to ID because I think it most consistent with the scientific data, with far better explanatory power for the data than blind unguided natural processes… not because I think it useful for apologetics.

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I enjoy ID because it drives the atheists nuts😅.
Seriously, though, to me, I think ID is useful because it keeps evolutionary scientists on their toes. Any reigning paradigm needs someone/something challenging it. It’s just healthy.
You mention that you are sympathetic to ID. What do you think is the most compelling idea/critique to come out if ID?

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Most evolutionary scientists pay no attention at all to ID. They are kept on their toes by other evolutionary scientists and by the need to publish.


Fair enough. Do you have a sense of what the biggest challenges to neo-Darwinism are, from inside the profession?
Relatedly, is there, within the profession, any serious doubt that random point mutations and lots of time are enough to get the job done? I’ve read some stuff, a book and several papers, about natural genetic engineering and things like that. Is that just a fringe element in the profession or is there an accepted belief that ‘hey we really don’t yet understand fully just what mechanisms are responsible for evolution ‘?

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I’m not in the profession, but there’s a lot more to the science than random point mutations, and I don’t think neo-Darwinism as a term is used much, either.

You might find a lot of good information here!

BTW I don’t doubt that intelligent design is real, I just think it ‘follows’ faith, rather than vice versa

Neutral theory, for one. Biologists haven’t been “Darwinists” for decades.

As others have pointed out, neo-Darwinism in any strict sense has been dead for decades. The importance of neutral evolution (including its role in facilitating adaptive evolution), horizontal gene transfer, and the major role that developmental programs play in limiting potential phenotypic change are among the ideas that make current evolutionary theory a lot more complex than traditional neo-Darwnism.

I think there’s plenty of recognition that point mutations are not likely to be adequate. Gene duplication (including whole-genome duplication) and transposons play an important role and make possible changes that would be difficult with point mutations alone. So the mechanisms that contribute to the idea of ‘natural genetic engineering’ are widely accepted. What isn’t widely accepted is the suggestion that organisms are able to control these mechanisms for directing their own evolution. Shapiro has had little success convincing researchers of that. (Shapiro himself hasn’t been an active researcher for quite a while – he’s not exactly a spokesperson for the field.) Overall, there are plenty of unanswered questions, but no widespread feeling that we’ve missed processes that will overturn our understanding of how evolution works.


Thanks guys. I appreciate all your responses and they are helpful. :slight_smile:

Btw I did read a book by Shapiro and saw that he was getting at self-directed evolution. Good to have the context that that is not mainstream thinking. His books and papers are hard to read for a nonprofessional. I expected that from his papers but not his book. Anyway, I’m rambling so I’ll jump off now. Have a good day!


What was most compelling to me personally is the raw mathematics involved in the supposition that random chance (however well assisted by some element/s of natural selection) could stumble upon the very specific sequences in DNA and/or polypeptides to arrive at something necessary for life.

I had been exposed to creationism in my younger years, but had (as I hope I still have) a very critical mind… in particular I remember someone making the argument about, “what are the odds that a single protein could come together by chance.” But at the time I distinctly recall thinking, “but given the evolutionary assumptions there were billions upon billions of opportunities over billions of years. The fact that something is improbable doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen once given enough time. I remember thinking, “what are the odds that my license plate is QXR 8463 (or whatever it was) but hey, there it was.”

But recently upon reading Meyer’s “signature in the cell,” I realized the sheer magnitude of numbers we’re talking about. I stopped and worked out the math myself once I realized what was entailed, and gave the “unguided” hypothesis every advantage. I took a hypothetical 100acid length protein necessary for life… supposed that their were 1 quintillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000) different variations of said protein that would still prove functional for said required biological function.

Then gave it all the time in the world (literally - 4.5 billion years x 31million seconds per year)… and assumed an ocean so full of amino acids that, every second of earth’s history a quintillion proteins of 100 acid length formed of random proteins, and multiplied all that by the time involved. In 4.5 billion years, this unguided process would have an astounding 1047 attempts of finding a protein with the required function. But given that there are ~ 10129 Possible variations of a 100 amino acid protein, this still leaves only a one in 1082 chance of finding said protein given the age of the earth. As I understand it, that’s around the number of atoms in the universe. So the odds of finding a single (smallish) necessary protein are roughly equivalent to choosing a single atom across the entire universe, then blindfolding Dr. Who, and giving him one chance to teleport anywhere in the known universe and see if he can, in one try, guess what atom you’ve picked. I had never actually done the math and was blown away - improbable is a gross understatement.

We could increase the possible functional variations of our desired protein to an octillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) or significantly more and the problem would remain.

This to me is what is most convincing to me, since you asked. Sorry for the long reply, brevity is not my strength.

The problem (or rather, one problem) is that you’ve made up a number based on nothing at all. What you’ve implicitly done is assume that (a) proteins were needed for life to start, and (b) only an infinitesimally small fraction of proteins could produce something like life. Because that’s what you’re doing – compared to the total number of possible proteins, an octillion is completely negligible, even though it sounds big to you. So why pick such a tiny one if you’re just making numbers up?

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Thanks for the reply.
I think Meyer is an impressive guy.
I recently bought Darwin’s Doubt, but haven’t started reading it yet. I’ll read it with a skeptical mindset, though, as I tend to read all things. Sometimes, it seems to me, the critiques of ID arguments are more compelling than the original argument.
On the origin of life, I’m oddly sanguine about it. My impression is that the ‘odds’ of spontaneous life emerging in an ‘apparently’ undirected way are low as you say. But even if scientists determine that the ‘odds’ were reasonable, that doesn’t mean God didn’t set the odds that way.

If I understand the problem right, Meyer’s error is he’s assuming complete randomness. However, evolution in the real world is not random.

A complaint about ID appears to be that they argue from incredulity; instead of entertaining the possibility of a solution, they claim none (“God did it”)


That’s why i used origin of initial complex bio molecules, as what is most compelling to me, if interesting. It can be argued (though I don’t agree) that once you start with pre-existing complexity, and aided by natural selection, these are matters of adjustment and elements of non randomness.

Establishment of the information within the first macromolecules before there was self-replication had to be entirely random, unless there is built into the laws of chemistry and physics itself some kind of “self-organizing” structure, but then that simply moves the locus of the astounding complexity.

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This was just my own original thought experiment, to answer John’s question, I don’t claim any exacting accuracy except that it helped me get a scope of the problem. I specified a particular protein that had a particular function necessary for life, not “any” functional protein, as this would be critical for that path to life (there would be many, different, specific functions necessary that not just “any functional protein” could effect), and it would be a significantly smaller number than finding “any functional protein.” and if we search for the likelihood of that corresponding information in a DNA/RNA strand we’ve only moved the problem, not solved anything.

So what would be an adequately big number? I suspect that if I suggest a ridiculously higher number, perhaps that are there are 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, variations of a protein that would provide a particular function necessary for life… you would still object, as this number similarly wouldn’t solve the problem. The odds would still be ridiculously small given the entire history of earth under the most ridiculously generous conditions.

Probably in order to answer that, you’d have to determine the minimally functional pieces of your protein. Does it bind to thing(s)? How big are the binding sites, and how many other varieties would suffice to bind there? Remember it doesn’t have to be as reliable at binding as the current version is; improvements can come after getting a barely functional version. Or is it the shape it folds into that accomplishes a task? How many substitutions could occur while keeping roughly the same shape? And finally, are there other forms of protein that could accomplish this function in other ways?

It’s not simple, clear-cut math, but it’s better than pulling a number out of a hat, no matter how impressively large it might look.

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Dear Reggie,
For me, ID is good idea planted in infertile soil. It was a knee-jerk reaction to the popularity of evolution, that was not thought out. You need to prepare the soil before planting the seed, and this is just starting to happen.