To Capitalize or Not to Capitalize? ID Theory vs. BioLogos

“In a word, I believe in intelligent design, lower case i and lower case d. / “But I have a problem with Intelligent Design, capital I and capital D.” – Owen Gingerich (God’s Universe, 2006)

One of the two main hired journalists for the Discovery Institute is a Canadian woman named Denyse O’Leary. Having not long ago** bumped into each other in person, living in the same city, Denyse and I recently had an exchange in an “Intelligent Design”-oriented Facebook group, after I inquired there about uppercase “Intelligent Design theory” vs. lowercase “intelligent design theory”. Do they mean the same thing, or not? Why use capitalized “Intelligent Design” outside of titles in normal sentences?

There I inquired to her if there are any people working with the DI who use uppercase “Intelligent Design" theory in writing. She noted that (paraphrased) she has not done any detailed research about it, but would expect books coming from the same publishing house would use the same style sheet. Thus, I stepped up to the plate with some basic research, bringing together some of what I’d already collected, with a quick bit of search into publishing houses for ID theory books . The results are shown below.

Denyse confirmed that she hasn’t specifically followed closely what the DI does, but says she guesses that they follow a press style sheet. She noted that (near exact paraphrase from private FB group), she has seen the “upcase” usage in various places , but that she herself tends to “downcase” in general, instead of “uppercasing”, other than for proper names. When asked, she did not answer to where she had seen those supposed uppercase uses of “Intelligent Design” by DI Fellows and leading IDists.

Let us then ponder this. Can “ID theory” be considered as a proper noun or a proper name? (The phrase “Intelligent Design movement” [IDM] may be counted as such, which leads to a different conversation, different than this one.) At a basic level, this is an English-grammar question, rather than a philosophical one. The main point here is that one could, and likely should, if they are an Abrahamic monotheistic religious believer, capitalize “Intelligent Designer”, since that’s a translation for “God,” as all of the major DI Fellows have stated or admitted when carefully questioned about it at one time or another. Iow, if one wishes to write “god”, instead of “God”, it’s like writing “intelligent designer” instead of “Intelligent Designer”. Yet why does the DI seem to have a policy to intentionally always NOT capitalize even “Intelligent Designer” as a proper name? After all, isn’t this the reason that BioLogos uses a capital letter “L” in the neological term, to leave no doubt that it’s focus is “science & faith”, not just “strictly natural science”?

BioLogos has made a simple, clear and open, easy to understand decision to capitalize the “L” in BioLogos. The Discovery Institute, in contrast, appears to be secretive, obsfucating and bluring the lines of discourse by having their cake (“Intelligent Design theory”) and eating it (“intelligent design theory”) too. This is known as the “double talking” phenomenon required of being a contemporary IDist (meaning “proponent of ID theory”), which I’ve been tracking as a sociologist of the “origins” conversation for the past 15+ years.

In the recent thread on FB, Denyse had started by responding to the initial question by calling it an ‘editorial decision’, where following ‘house style’ is best, unless there’s a reason to depart from that style. So, what ‘departure’ would offer a good reason for the Discovery Institute to capitalize instead of not capitalizing “Intelligent Design”? She then departed from the thread, and hasn’t returned to discuss.

It does not seem, however, aside from Denyse’s loose guess, that any “editorial decision” by a publishing house so far has gone with capitalized “Intelligent Design theory”. At least I have found no evidence that an “editorial decision” has gone against the wishes of the author(s) of an “ID theory” text. It would appear instead that ALL DI-affiliated and funded authors are intentionally downcasers. Iow, the “house style” of the DI is to always downcase “intelligent design theory”. What I’m asking people here is: why is that?

What follows shows the tally from research conducted so far.

Publishers that downcase “intelligent design”: 14

Downcaser publishers: Discovery Institute Press, IVP, ISI, Harper One, Harper Collins, Free Press, Crossway, Regnery Publishing, Cambridge University Press, Harvest House Publishers, Igantius Press, Angelico Press, Ashgate, Zondervan.

ID theory “downcaser” books included: The Design Revolution & ID: The Bridge, The Nature of Nature, Icons of Evolution, The Privileged Planet, The Design Inference, Understanding Intelligent Design, Signature in the Cell, The Edge of Evolution, Darwin Devolves, Darwin’s Doubt, Theistic Evolution, Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe, Catholicism & Evolution, Being as Communion, and the “Four Views” books. This list is not exhaustive.

Denyse is herself the/an editor of 4 sites - Evolution News & Views, Uncommon Descent, Salvo Mag, and Mind Matters. She thus confirmed she downcases “intelligent design” at all of those online locations.

Publishers that use uppercase “Intelligent Design” (0): None

So where are these “upcasers” that Denyse claims exist in the IDM?

My experience with publishing houses, different from Denyse’s apparently, is that they start with what the author(s) write(s). It would surprise me if Denyse were to suggest that all or even some of the authors of the books above, actually wrote “Intelligent Design theory”, but instead the publishing house over-wrote them many multiple times, and replaced them with “intelligent design theory.” That would indicate even more of a conspiracy against the IDM than many (range of fanatical) IDists believe already exists!

Another way we could also “count”, to find out grammar usage rates, would be by means of Discovery Institute people who downcase “intelligent design” in either book, article, or online writing.

Thus, the following short list of ID theory downcasers: 15

Stephen C. Meyer, John G. West, William Dembski, Michael Behe, Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe, Paul Nelson, Jay Richards, Marcos Eberlin, Jonathan Wells, Jonathan Witt, Michael Chaberek, Michael Flannery, Richard Sternburg, Bruce Gordon, et al. This list is also not exhaustive.

Discovery Institute people who use uppercase “Intelligent Design” (0): None found so far.

The evidence I have seen indicates that the Discovery Institute silently refuses to upcase “Intelligent Design”, despite multiple requests to them to do so, and with ample explanation provided for this communications-oriented request. Why not?

Any errors in the research and reporting above are my own. Please fill in the gaps and help confirm if Denyse O’Leary’s suggestion is true or false. If there are indeed ID theory proponents who regularly and consistently use the upcase “Intelligent Design theory” grammar form, it would be very helpful for this to be known more widely. If it is false, then why would Denyse suggest otherwise?

Bill Dembski already warned about this over 15 years ago:

“If intelligent design [theory; IDT] cannot be made into a fertile new point of view that inspires exciting new areas of scientific investigation, then (even if true) it will go nowhere. … The validity of THE design argument, on the other hand [i.e. to distinguish from IDT], depends not on the fruitfulness of design-theoretic ideas for science but on the metaphysical and theological mileage one can get out of design.” (my caps, 2004: 65)

Support for making the distinction between “intelligent design theory” and “Intelligent Design theory”:

“I think it advisable to capitalize ‘Intelligent Design’ (ID) in order to signal that we are using the words in a technical sense, rather than in the sense accepted by every Christian. … Obviously, theists, who believe in an intelligent designer of the universe, may not be on board with all the tenets of ID. My greatest reservation, for example, is the claim that the inference to a designer is supposed to constitute a scientific theory. As a philosopher, I tend to think that such an inference is philosophical or metaphysical in character rather than part of a new, rival scientific theory.” – W.L Craig

“When capitalized, however, ‘Intelligent Design’ refers to a more particular set of views and arguments as exemplified by the work of the Discovery Institute.” – Deborah Haarsma (

“The idea of intelligent design with lower case letters can mean there is an intelligent Creator that is the source of creation. No argument there. The debates arise when talking about Intelligent Design.” - Christy Hemphill (How is Intelligent Design different from intelligent design?)

Even Discovery Institute leading donor, Howard Ahmanson accepts this:

“All Christians believe in intelligent design with a small ‘i’ and a small ‘d,’ though they have every right to critique the particular theory called intelligent design.” – Howard Ahmanson (

So why can’t the Discovery Institute make a public statement clarifying themselves about this? What is wrong with the IDM that the DI requires double-talking in order to fully embrace “ID theory”?

To conclude, why does capitalization of “Intelligent Design” theory (IDT) or lack of capitalization of “intelligent design” theory (IDT) even matter? The first IDist moderator in the FB to give a first response in defending IDism was: “so what?”, as if capitalization or lack thereof didn’t matter at all. Why isn’t “ID theory” capitalized by IDists, while BioLogos capitalizes the ‘L’?

(Author’s note: throwing this out to hear what people think. Likely won’t chime in for a few days, now with other work to do. Thanks for understanding.)

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I figure it’s the same as with god and the bible. Some capitalize it and some don’t.

As for ID it depends on the context for me.I use both depending on what I’m saying.

Intelligent Design is often capitalized because it’s referring to a specific thing by its name. It’s often sued as a proper name for a set of thoughts collectively.

It’s also used often with lower case because it’s being used as a general statement. Either or is perfectly fine.

Interesting – I do like being able to use capitalization as a way to distinguish what kind of “ID” a person is talking about, but I can also see why, for those who see little distinction between the mere idea of intelligent design and “ID Theory,” blurring of the lines would not seem such a problem as it might for those who see a stronger difference. I don’t really discuss it much so I haven’t paid much attention to how it’s used in more casual discourse, but the use of the acronym ID may blur this more, since a capitalized acronym does not necessarily denote a capitalized phrase.

Good point. I am an ‘IDist’ in that I believe in intelligent design since I believe in the sovereign intelligent Creator, and that his providential interventions are theologically implicit in evolution, but not that they can be scientifically proven any more than his providential interventions into the lives of his children can be scientifically proven, even though they are implicitly obvious to us (à la Maggie). But we have to put scare quotes around ‘id’ to distinguish it from ID (and Freud :slightly_smiling_face:), at least the way I use it, because the latter denotes intelligent design theory, which sees itself as scientific, or potentially so. I also tend to capitalize Intelligent Design when I am talking about the supposed theorisms of the DI, and not the intelligent design that is theologically implicit in creation.


With capitalization “Intelligent Design” is an attack upon science seeking to reverse history and take us back to the middle ages when theology was considered the queen of the sciences and all scientists must first answer to a board of inquisition to make sure what they say agrees with the so called authority of the church. Otherwise evolution might help us to realize that being alive is more than a magical gift of the ecclesiastical organization supposedly by divine appointment.

Without capitalization, “intelligent design” is a distortion of Christian theology by pagan philosophy idolizing reason and replacing the Bible’s good shepherd with the divine watchmaker of the Deists, replacing spirit with mind, and faith with theological arguments. This is so that Christians will be clockwork wind-up soldiers obedient to their dogma programming by a church claiming to speak for God, instead of living beings who make their own choices about what to think and do in a relationship with a living God who can speak for Himself.

In this way they are really two sides of the same coin seeking power and control over the minds of people, which certainly does not want some outside entity like science disputing their lame answers to most questions that it is all a “mystery of God.”

To me, it is like Catholic Church vs catholic church. One refers to a institution and the other the whole church.


I’m ambivolant to the capitalization issue. I don’t understand the term “theory” attached to id/ID. Is it actually a theory?

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Hello Kendel,

Is it actually a theory?

While realizing that yours is a different question than if IDists say that ID theory counts as a “strictly scientific” theory or not, here is what they say, in their own words, about the “theory/theories” of ID (IDT):

Q. Sir, what is intelligent design?

A. Intelligent design is a scientific theory that proposes that some aspects of life are best explained as the result of design, and that the strong appearance of design in life is real and not just apparent.” – Michael Behe (Dover trial,

This is a standard def’n of “theory of ID” or IDT:

“Certain features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than undirected materialistic processes.” – Stephen Meyer (Four Views on Creation, Evolution and Intelligent Design. Zondervan, 2017: 227)

Of course, it depends on who you ask:

I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world.” - Phillip E. Johnson (Berkley Science Review, Spring 2006)

‘ID’ is a greased pig – it means anything the ID theorist needs it to mean in order to escape from whatever objection they’re facing at the moment.” – Edward Feser (

“But unlike strict Darwinian materialism and the New Atheism built atop it, the theory of intelligent design affirms the reality of a designer — a mind or personal intelligence behind life. This case for design restores to Western thought the possibility that human life in particular may have a purpose or significance beyond temporary material utility. It suggests the possibility that life may have been designed by an intelligent person, indeed, one that many would identify as God.” – Stephen C. Meyer (Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. Harper One, 2013)

“The theory of intelligent design generates both excitement and loathing because, in addition to providing a compelling explanation of the scientific facts, it holds out the promise of help in integrating two things of supreme importance — science and faith — that have long been seen as at odds.” - Stephen Meyer (Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. Harper One, 2013)

“[W]hile the theory of intelligent design does not prove the existence of God or answer all of our existential questions, it does reestablish the conditions of a meaningful “search for meaning.” The case for intelligent design challenges the premise of the materialist credo and holds out the possibility of reversing the philosophy of despair that flows from it. Life is the product of mind; it was intended, purposed, ‘previsioned.’ Hence, there may be a reality behind matter that is worth investigating.” - Stephen C. Meyer (Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. Harper One 2009)

“We do not and cannot know, as a matter of valid empirical inference, that biological design – meaning the detectable action within space and time of a transcendent intelligence – has occurred.” … “Any such proposition (i.e., the positive inference of divine design as an empirical matter) does not fall within natural science proper. ID theorists by definition say otherwise: [divine] design is detectable as an empirical finding.” - Paul Nelson (caricaturing critics of IDT, 2019,

“Something I’ve said for a long time is that the theory of intelligent design is a theory of evolution — that is, a theory that explains the origins of biological novelties over the course of the long history of life. It differs from Darwinian evolution in keys aspects, but not in all ways. To call ID “anti-evolution” is just not accurate. I find some support for that in comments from philosopher of biology Paul Nelson on a new episode of ID the Future. Dr. Nelson is back from a pilgrimage to the Galápagos Islands, where a young Charles Darwin drew some conclusions that would shape his mature thinking. As Paul explains to host Andrew McDiarmid, he rejects the idea that the agenda for intelligent design should be to “punch Darwin in the nose.” Not at all. “Darwin got a lot of things right,” including about the role of history in shaping species. The task for ID is to “take what Darwin got right and build that into your theory of design.” In other words, while discarding the weaknesses of the competing evolutionary theory, the job is to integrate the strengths of the old with the strengths of the new.” - David Klinghoffer (

While this is what they say (with Feser thrown in for a bit of balance), is “ID theory” best said not to count as a “scientific theory” in your view? None of the examples of “Intelligent Design” are capitalized, in line with the above research.

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Gregory, thank you for taking all the time you did to put together such a detailed reply with quotations! I learned more than I expected to, when I asked mu question.

You are welcome, Kendel. Glad for any learning you got from it. It was all handy & available in my collection as a sociologist observing this “conversation” over the past 15+ years.

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Thanks for pulling together all these examples. I didn’t realize DI and their publishers had an aversion to capitalizing the phrase.

Having recently done a lot of copy editing of science/faith materials, I checked out multiple style guides for capitalization preferences on things like evangelical/Evangelical, creationist/Creationist, big bang/Big Bang, earth/Earth, moon/Moon, creator/Creator, and I found that there are not hard and fast rules that everyone accepts, so the idea of a DI style sheet guiding this choice doesn’t sound far-fetched.

I take your point with Intelligent Designer to refer to God, but capitalizing divine terms (or pronouns, for that matter) is just a convention and doesn’t necessarily apply “grammatically” unless the term is clearly being used as a proper name. If Intelligent Designer is preceded by an article (the/an/some), then grammatically, it isn’t being used as a proper name. Many people don’t capitalize nouns that refer to God or Jesus when they are proceeded by an article. “I am the vine, you are the branches.” “Jesus is the savior of the world.” “God is the rock of our salvation.” “Jesus, the coming king.” (Some conventional exceptions in Bible translations differentiate the word being used as a title from other more mundane uses. Son, Lamb, Lord, etc.)

I look at it as similar to Big Bang. When you capitalize it, we know you are referring to the specific theory, not just a generic description of the world’s beginning. When I see Intelligent Design capitalized, I know it is referring to the specific DI-advocated theory, not just a generic assertion that creation has an intelligent creator (or Creator?).

I would be interested to know if there were some kind of ideological or political motivation behind the DI choice to insist on not capitalizing, or if it really is just an arbitrary style guide kind of choice.

“Thanks for pulling together all these examples. I didn’t realize DI and their publishers had an aversion to capitalizing the phrase.”

As you’re a Moderator of this Forum, “you’re welcome” to BioLogos. Yes, it’s surely at least an “aversion” at the DI among the policy makers for their “movement”.

“the idea of a DI style sheet guiding this choice doesn’t sound far-fetched.”

Yes, this was assumed before Denyse said it as standard practise. Has anyone here tried to ask the DI about their “style sheet” on this issue?

“I take your point with Intelligent Designer to refer to God … If Intelligent Designer is preceded by an article (the/an/some), then grammatically, it isn’t being used as a proper name.”

Good. & the 2nd part, agreed.

“When I see Intelligent Design capitalized, I know it is referring to the specific DI-advocated theory, not just a generic assertion that creation has an intelligent creator (or Creator?).”

Yes, capitalization would clear up any doubt about “the specific DI-advocated theory”. Yet the DI’s leaders have been asked multiple times to do so, and still silently refuse to “clear up the doubt”. Instead, they foment doubt with their obscurantism on this singular issue. The IDM is clearly peddling FUD in this example, and not unlike the YECist movement, the IDM embraces the peddling of FUD and shows no sign of abating. This will haunt the legacy of the Discovery Institute: their intentional double talking and sciency PR.

“I would be interested to know if there were some kind of ideological or political motivation behind the DI choice to insist on not capitalizing, or if it really is just an arbitrary style guide kind of choice.”

It seems there are at least 2 options.

Option 1: trust Denyse O’Leary, 4-site journalist for the IDM, who seems to suggest that there is “no ideological or political motivation behind the DI choice to insist on not capitalizing”.

Option 2: don’t trust anyone in the DI since they are notoriusly incorrigible double-talkers, and instead follow the evidence where it leads … to the DI’s ideology and the actions that follow from it.

If a person goes for Option 2, yet hasn’t taken the time to study and learn, 1) what “ideology” is, and 2) how recognizing the IDM’s ideology marks the penultimate step before it’s collapse, then likely they won’t get far enough to reach the viewpoint (lookout).

NB: if one isn’t interested in or doesn’t put in the time studying the IDM’s ideology = IDism, then it’s rather easy for a philosophy-averse N. American to miss it, and most will leave ideology out entirely in their assessment of IDism. A strange predicament, indeed!

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Yes, the history of “ID theory” as a “theory” can be questioned & challenged. If that’s what you’re saying, then I certainly agree.

As for “pluck the theory out of thin air”, it doesn’t sound like you’re a theorist yourself, are you?

I don’t have any problem calling “ID theory” a “theory”. That’s indeed part of the discourse surrounding the title of the OP. The problem arises when IDists don’t treat “ID theory” as a theory at all! They treat “Intelligent Design” (“God did it”) as a “fact” that can be studied/inferred using methods in the “natural sciences”. Every single professional, serious, level-headed, rigorous thinker in science, philosophy, theology cooperative discourse, disagrees with IDists. Do you know why that is Ani99?

Regarding “ID theory” (aka IDT), the person who “coined” this concept duo for the IDM (before it existed) in 1984, was a man named Charles Thaxton. I know this because I had lunch with Thaxton in 2008 and directly asked him that question. Why did I ask him? Because at the Discovery Institute’s “summer program for students”, they acknowledged Thaxton as the original architect of “ID theory”. Thaxton openly admitted to me during lunch that he had indeed “plucked out of thin air” the combo “Intelligent Design” while reading an engineering magazine that mentioned the term “design” in it. So, even while Dembski & others deny that “ID theory” is “mechanistic”, the theory itself was conceptualized by Thaxton as such in 1984. It wasn’t “research & established facts” that led to the coining of “ID theory”, but rather a (non-scientific/extra-scientific) desire to apply a metaphor in a different field (biology) than it was discovered in (engineering).

Now if that sounds to you like a good background for (what many at the DI think they are now making) a “revolution!” in biology, then please excuse that we have very different standards and expectations about how professional scholarly work gets done.


Wow. The incredible importance of capital letters! Something about Mountains And Molehills.

Maybe you should consider switching to decaf…

Reasons to Believe seems to be mostly a downcaser organization wrt “ID theory”. Though they don’t seem to have any problem capitalizing “Designer”, given that their mission is openly apologetics.

Fazale Rana used “human designers” and “Divine Designer” here:

Elsewhere he capitalized the “Designer”, but not “intelligent”:

“Both the flagellum’s structure and assembly point to the work of an intelligent Designer.”

The above came from a 5-minute search of RtB website.

If you work with RtB, Marty, perhaps you could inquire if they have a “house style sheet” on this, like the Discovery Institute does, as Denyse O’Leary suggested. Has RtB ever discussed the request of people like W.L. Craig to intentionally distinguish “Intelligent Design” from “intelligent design”, for purposes of clearer and more accurate communication, or not?

No worries. I certainly won’t blow a tire if you write “Biologos” (or biologos for that matter), even though Francis Collins wrote “BioLogos”. Surely that capital letter makes no difference in the author’s mind when intentionally written that way either, right? :relaxed:

I can understand why Collins did this, and why Rana capitalized Designer. But I think that if you can’t tell from the context what someone is talking about, whether it is capitalized or not isn’t going to help.

What I’m missing is why this is so important to you. I don’t see a connection between capitalization and whether or not people are scoundrels. Perhaps you could provide an article from someone in the IDM that you think is a scoundrel as evidenced by their use of capitalization in that article, and I will comment on whether I think they are being disingenuous.

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Maybe it’s to differentiate between BioLogos and the Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian for biologists, something that confuses people all the time. Lots of queries to the BioLogos Facebook inbox asking for someone to identify bugs.

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