Will Intelligent design ever be accepted if no naturalistic explanations can ever be found?


One of the main arguments against ID is the accusation that it is an argument from ignorance or that is a science stopper. Personally, I think such claims are false and silly but people are entitled to believe in what they want. ID is falsifiable but not evolution.

For example, the flagellum is composed of numerous parts and they have to be assembled in the right order to work. What people like Behe and me included say that either all parts are assembled together at once or it could not have come by a step by step process because natural selection would not waste energy over something that is not providing benefit to the bacteria.

It seems obvious to me as a Biology undergrad how difficult it is for something as complex as this to be built in a step by step process yet many think there might be mechanisms that are still waiting to be discovered. For the sake of argument, lets say 50 years from now, we still don’t have a naturalistic explanation, would ID be considered as a valid explanation?

(James Stump) #2

@cornucopian Thanks for your question. It is a fair one to be sure. Your question isn’t really about the bacterial flagellum specifically, but I point you to this series by BioLogos staff member Kathryn Applegate (PhD in cellular biology) about it: http://biologos.org/blog/series/bacterial-flagellum It continues to amaze us how this example continues to be used.

Your bigger question, though, is about what counts as science. When Steve Meyer responded to our review of his Darwin’s Doubt a few weeks ago, he claimed that the big difference between us is a commitment to methodological naturalism. Our president’s response showed this isn’t the case. ID folks are free to make the case that they have a better explanation for the data. For their explanation to be accepted, they have to persuade people with results. They try to make it sound like the reason people aren’t persuaded is an apriori commitment. But in the history of science, it’s pretty easy to get people to change their apriori commitments: come up with a better explanation that is testable, that leads to other discoveries.

If the question is how bacteria developed flagella, and the answer is “God put them there”, we want to say, “OK, but how did God put them there?” We agree that in some sense “God put them there”, but stopping with that does bring a halt to the investigation.


Why is evolutionary handwaving a scientific explanation ? All she claims is it self assembled like magic conveniently ignoring Natural selection is a pure random process. So are you claiming that the bacteria got this mechanism figured out in the very first try? My question is what benefit was the bacteria gaining while it was building it?

The bacteria most likely did not get the steps right in the first try. It must have figured out through trial and error. Now for the trial and error process to continue, these steps should provide a benefit. If it didn’t, natural selection would not be wasting time and energy over it. Please provide a logical explanation. I can see how it could have come because my brain can process information. Natural selection’s brain is reproductive benefit. Where is the benefit here when none of the parts by themselves provide a benefit. ken miller explains this by saying all parts have a function but that is like claiming all objects have mass so they could we used as paper weight.

We see again and again that natural selection struggles to fix advantageous traits unless they provide a strong benefit. Please take a look at Michael Lynch’s paper.

Gene knockout experiments have shown that even if one part is missing, it fails. Take an internal combustion engine and remove a single part, it fails to function.

I repeat again. It is easy to see how it could have come in one’s head but the bacteria has no goal other than reproduction. Either all parts provided a benefit while the bacteria was stumbling like a drunkard or it simply didn’t happen. Every time I see someone explain the flagellum, it almost seems that they forget natural selection is a random process.

Imagination is not a scientific answer. She provided a good description of the parts and how they assemble but that does not explain how they evolved. This is another tactic used to give the impression that it has been solved.


I think ID is simply an answer to the limits of Darwinian evolution. It is not an argument from ignorance. It is an argument from facts. Either all protein parts of a molecular machine provided a benefit to the organism while it was building or it could not have come by naturalistic processes. Darwin emphasized step by step processes and if few steps didn’t provide a benefit, it becomes extremely difficult to build complex structures.

Can natural selection be the designer for engines? No.

(James Stump) #5

You have a powerful intuition that irreducible complexity is a knock-down argument against evolution. I’d encourage you to read about the advances in understanding such structures. You might start with Ken Miller (a Christian, so he’s not holding to this out of metaphysical presuppositions against theism): http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/design2/article.html One of the common findings is that that of co-option: using structures that originally served another purpose. In that way, you don’t have to have all of the parts appear at the same time.

(James Stump) #6

Our FAQ on irreducible complexity also has some good info on this: http://biologos.org/questions/complexity-of-life And an older series: http://biologos.org/blog/series/reducing-irreducible-complexity


Sure. Co option sounds good and I don’t deny it. Let’s go to a automobile factory where every part needed to make a car is available. Someone has to assemble them together to produce a functional engine.

Let’s say the bacteria has all the parts needed to make a flagellum. How did natural selection put them together? Selection is dependent on benefits to the organism. Having all the parts does not mean anything. Most people don’t seem to get how difficult the problem is… It is the assembly of parts that poses a problem for evolution. the presence of parts is meaningless.I have been reading Miller’s arguments and neither he nor the other Darwin defenders see the problem- how did the building get built by a step by process? Most of the time, I see descriptions of structures but very little on how they got built.

I never had a problem with evolution until I read the edge of evolution and realized how difficult the problem is. As an Bio undergraduate, I can understand the arguments being made but they are missing the point.


I appreciate your calm and measured tone. Usually, there is lots of name calling when it comes to this topic.

I think this video explains the co option argument https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2hSXmyIOGY

(James Stump) #9

Remember, we’re not atheists or deists here. We’re not trying to tack on God to Neo-Darwinism. We believe there are purposes and goals for creation (I think Simon Conway Morris’s work on convergence is hugely suggestive in this regard). We believe that God intentionally created human beings. Natural selection is not random (as you stated earlier). Perhaps genetic mutations are all random (though I wouldn’t be surprised if there is something else going on there too). But surely God can use these partially random processes to achieve his purpose. Even we mortals can use random processes like the lottery to achieve predictable outcomes.

So, we think God is involved in the development of life. It’s just that we think there is incredible fruitfulness in studying that process scientifically. That last series I pointed to gave lots of advances in understanding supposedly irreducibly complex processes. Should we have just stopped looking for such things after Behe’s book? If we don’t have all the answers in 50 years should we just stop? If we do figure out some of these scientific issues, that doesn’t mean that God had nothing to do with it.

Good chatting with you.

(Brandon ) #10

Very good question. Unfortunately, my personal feeling is that science will never accept ID as a legitimate argument because of the simple fact that it can’t be empirically proven. To be fair I definitely agree that guys like Meyer, Dembski and Behe have been mischaracterized concerning their particular viewpoint of ID.

In principle I agree with their overall conclusion that the best known cause for organisms that contain complex specified information is intelligence. We see this phenomenon happening all the time in our world today as engineers and computer scientists (intelligent agents) create this kind of information on a daily basis. So in theory it is a scientific observation to conclude that intelligent agents can create complex specified information. However the problem is that when we look at particular organisms (the bacterial flagellum) and try to understand how it could have come together we obviously see no direct empirical evidence of an intelligent agent putting it together. The same thing from an empirical standpoint seems to be true of the genetic material within organisms. Although it is true that DNA is most definitely a form of complex specified information we don’t see “God” from a direct analysis putting the pieces together (or writing the code).

Now, the observation that we do not see God creating things or putting things together does not in any way mean that God is not involved in such a process. On the contrary, I tend to believe that based upon what we know about cosmology, physics and biology today that God like a brilliant mathematician has put together “specific constants and laws” that bring about certain phenomenon like life as we observe it today. So from the viewpoint of science living organisms are a natural effect that are “produced” from a natural cause. In the larger picture though God is the intelligent designer of such a process.

I appreciate the work that Meyer, Dembski and Behe have put together. I especially like Dembski’s research concerning information and his metaphysical analysis of it (see his book “Being as Communion.”) I think your question is very legit and I would definitely like to hear from others who are professionals in these areas of discipline.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #11

I think your response to ID is basically on target. The question is not “Does God create?” but “How does God create?” and God does create by natural processes as best we can tell.

That however brings me to Darwin’s blind spot, Natural Selection, which is also BioLogos’ blind spot. Variation is random, if not completely random, while Natural Selection is not. So the question is “How does God work through Natural Selection?”

Probably Christians are turned off by the word “natural,” in Natural Selection because it seems to eliminate God. However what BioLogos has been saying and certainly what the Bible says is that God works in and through nature. Psalm 139:13-16 powerfully proclaims that humans are created by YHWH, but does not deny the fact that we are also the products of human parents.

God created the physical universe as well as the organic universe. What I am saying is that it is God’s purpose that the physical universe be the nursery and guide for the organic universe leading eventually to humans through a plan that only God could conceive and carry out.

I know that this is farfetched from our modern human point of view, but I hope that BioLogos would give my thought a fair hearing before it rejects it.

Roger's views on Darwinism and natural selection

In the next 10 years, we will discover even more complex systems that would require serious explanations. The optimists will say as we learn more, we can explain how it evolved. I am not that optimistic.

How does God create? Simple answer is we don’t know. Some look for mutations to explain how motors assembled. I don’t have so much faith.

The universe is finely tuned and we know that by various physical constants/values. Nobody asks how God fine tuned those laws. We just accept it. Did God have some kind of a special dial where he was playing around until he figured the right constants? We don’t know. We still accept these numbers without asking how they came about. We have reached an edge and nobody complains.


A theory is scientific if it can be falsified. Evolution by natural selection can’t be falsified. Common descent can be but not the process by which species arose.

Intelligent Design has theological conclusions and it annoys people. As time goes on, instead of making things clearer, science will show more complex functions that will not be explained by naturalistic explanations. Most biologists are atheists and therefore they do not want to accept such a conclusion.

The origin of life has been debated and studied for more than 50 years and we are not near to solving the puzzle. This topic has led more people to accept God than anything else because it can’t be explained by science. Dean Kenyon on the origin of life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_VYPy_BW68

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #14

Very true. At best we are trying to see what happened and then understand why.

You bring up two different aspects of the Creation. One is evolutionary change. This is a legitimate subject for science because we need to understand changes in our world. Change however has been a problem for philosophy which values eternity as opposed to change.

The Bible however is the story of change. The theological problem is how does God Who does not change create a world which is constantly changing?

On the other hand the question if fine tuning is not a question of change, but the question of constants. Is the fact that the universe is structured it such a precise manner that life can come into existence a most improbable coincidence or part of a rational plan? If one believes in magic, then irrational events might happen, but I prefer a rational plan.

Of course the multiverse theory is the alternative to rational creation. It says that somehow “nature” creates universes in a random manner in an infinite variety, or almost infinite variety so that at least one is right for life as we know it. If you don’t succeed at first, try, try again.

In my opinion the problem is not that science cannot explain life and the world, but that chance cannot explain the world. There is no reason to believe that the universe was created by chance and every reason to think that the universe is the product of a rational Mind. This does require God to intervene to make things happen. It means that we can discover rational laws that explain how nature works.

We need also to understand our world and how its ecology works so that the changes that humans have made in the environment do not destroy the balances that God’s created and ruin the home God has made for us.

(John Heininger) #15

Naturalism is the most extreme form of atheism, and operates on the unproven “blind faith” belief that everything is solely the result of “vastly improbable” chance events for which there exists no testable or verifiable scientific answers. Which itself turns out to be a definition of magic and “miracles”. Namely vastly improbable “metaphysical” events that are beyond the explanatory power of science and physics.

Intelligent design is not only science, but the foundational principle on which all of science functions, and without which it is impossible to do science. Every scientist functions on the principle that the universe is both rational and “intelligible”. No scientist truly believes that they apply their reason and intelligence to a irrational non-intelligent universe. Nor does the scientific world copy the designs discovered in nature and apply these to technology in the belief that this is only “apparent” design. Scientists are copying what they regard as “real” design, and they know it is “real” because it works in the technology they produce. And as the technology they produce necessitates a designer, so does the design in nature. As an intelligent effect always demands an intelligent cause. And all the courts and scientific affiliations in the world opposing ID cannot change this “self-evident” reality.

Thus, the issue of our time is not “is it science”, but whether mainstream science itself now lives in a surreal world of its own making, far removed from reality. So, blinded by “metaphysical” naturalism and godless materialism that it is now living in denial of the self-evident reality that the universe is intelligible and that real design exists. Thus, sawing off the limb science is sitting on. That is precisely why ID will not only survive, but ultimately prevail.


Deep down there is a strong belief that science will solve the origin of complex structures. It also doesn’t help that the people who criticize natural selection are religious. The other side begins to bury the head in the sand by invoking co option as the solution. It is a knee jerk reaction because there is a feeling that if nothing is done then they will lose the debate.

We know that the flagellum evolved before the type III system so the co option theory is not adequate enough.

Personally, I don’t understand why naturalism is the only acceptable answer even when it contradicts every fact know. It is an ideological battle that will take a long time to win.


Why do theistic evolutionists believe in miracles after all the mechanism of someone being cured of an incurable disease is not known? ID explanation of the first cell is similar to how Christians accept miracles. They don’t question how a dead man rose on the third day. But by using simple logic and facts, we know that the resurrection happened as promised in the Old Testament.
ID is a metaphysical explanation of things that cannot be explained by naturalistic processes. The whole debate is over philosophy.


How is it falsifiable? And if it’s so obviously falsifiable, which ID proponents are trying to falsify it in the laboratory or the field?


I’m not following you. First, scientific disagreements are not resolved by debates. They are resolved by people who do the hard work of rigorously testing their hypotheses.

Can you point me to a single case of an ID proponent rigorously testing an ID hypothesis?

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #20


I agree with your concerns. I agree that the universe is intelligently designed and created by God. I agree that those who take the ideology of modern science are in danger of going off the deep end, as are those who take the ideology of YEC.

Where I don’t agree is that we can prove this by scientific methods. This is a philosophical question as you have indicated and must be addressed by philosophical means.

As best as I can tell ID does not do this and neither does evolutionary creation, although evolutionary creation does not attempt to do so.