Unintelligent Design?


Published: 8 March 2018 (GMT+10)

There are many people who oppose the idea of ‘Intelligent Design’ (ID). They recognize that it must mean that there is an intelligence behind the design, an intelligence outside and above the design itself; and in the context, the design of living things. The term is mocked at school (pupils who espouse it have been humiliated by teachers), it is dismissed in the media, and virtually outlawed in academia.


In fact, ID is not really a very intelligent term, because it is tautologous: design must by its very nature be intelligent. Perhaps this can be best explained by looking at the other side of the coin. Could there be such a thing as ‘Unintelligent Design’?1

A brief acquaintance with popular presentations of the natural world will soon provide many references to ‘design’. Many features are referred to as ‘a wonderful design’, or it is said that they are ‘designed to’ accomplish some specific end, such as keeping warm, attracting a mate, enabling flight, or whatever. For example, David Attenborough, who is utterly opposed to any idea of an outside intelligence, can often be heard using such language in his television broadcasts. The extraordinary way in which the various parts of a body interact shouts ‘design’! Even Richard Dawkins conceded, in The Blind Watchmaker, that there are many things in the natural world that give the appearance of having been designed.2 But who, or what, is responsible for that design?

If ID is not an acceptable concept, but the fact of design is acknowledged, then the only alternative is ‘Unintelligent Design’. Now this does not mean ‘bad’ design (good design and rubbish design both qualify as design), but the absence of any intelligence behind the design.1 Let us give a little thought to what this means.

‘Design’ carries with it the idea of purpose—indeed it is essential to the very concept of design, which must be a teleological act. If it isn’t purposeful, it is no longer design, but merely accident. Some modern ‘art’ is simply the result of random accidents—there is no way that such products can be said to be ‘designed’. If we acknowledge that something is designed, we recognise it has been fashioned with an end in view, with a purpose. That purpose might be practical, artistic, or nefarious. But an accident or random happening cannot, by definition, carry such a purpose. Thus ‘intelligent’ design is indeed tautological, simply a qualification of what the word design means using a different word. If something is designed it must be the product of intelligence, whether low or high-level intelligence.

Does evolution make any difference?

The answer, according to those who oppose ID, is simply that evolution does the design. There are numerous examples of this statement of belief (for such it is, and must be, as it can never be scientifically demonstrated), but one will suffice. In 2013, a Stanford University study examined the reactions of men and women to vaccination against flu. Commenting on the study report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it was stated, “Scientists said they were left perplexed as to why evolution would design a hormone that enhances classic male sexual characteristics…”.3 Apparently, the alternative to design by an intelligent agent is design by evolution—which, one assumes, must be ‘Unintelligent Design’.

But we have already determined that design is not logically possible without intelligence, at some level. How are we to resolve the paradox? According to most dictionary definitions, evolution is a blind stochastic process, simply a description of what allegedly happened in the past without any intelligent input. A process cannot design anything, thus evolution cannot design! If it could, it would be equivalent to saying, “The journey to work designed my car”—an absurd and meaningless statement. So-called ‘design by evolution’ is just the same.

But perhaps evolution is more than a process? Although a non-material entity, maybe it has mysterious powers to direct and select. If so, the same powers that theists ascribe to a Creator God are simply being ascribed to evolution. This rather gives the game away. For its proponents, belief in evolution is a faith, a creed, just as surely as any other faith. We might even say that evolution has become ‘god’ as far as its adherents are concerned, able to do anything ascribed to it.

If this idea of evolution is unacceptable, there is only one resolution. If one is to dispense with an intelligent designer (which exists outside the material realm which it designs), one must believe that we exist and think as the consequence of a completely random set of totally unconnected, arbitrary events. Fred Hoyle described the sheer improbability of such a thing very well when he likened it to, “the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747.” In this ‘vision’, we are just the fleeting flotsam in the middle of an eternal cosmic accident.

In conclusion, if we refuse to accept the concept of Intelligent Design in the natural world, we have to conclude that our existence is merely the result of countless random events and is utterly meaningless. The presenters of popular science programmes need to take note: nothing is designed to work, and the fact that it does is just an accumulation of billions of accidents. There is one philosophical problem, however. We are creatures who design incessantly. Where did we get our concept of design if there was no such thing?

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

References and notes

  1. This concept may more accurately be expressed as ‘non-intelligent design’, as we use the word ‘intelligence’ in several different ways; but for our purposes, by ‘unintelligent’ we mean the absolute ‘lacking any conscious or rational ability’, and not the comparative ‘not very bright’. Return to text.
  2. Dawkins, R., The Blind Watchmaker, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, USA, p. 1, 1986. See also the articles under creation.com/dawk. Return to text.
  3. Anon, Men suffer more from flu symptoms than women, study suggests, nationalpost.com, 24 December 2013. Return to text.

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Reader’s comments

Timothy W.
Interesting article. I always cringe when someone supporting evolution talks about the “purpose” of some part, or behavior, of a living organism. The idea that scientists were “perplexed as to why evolution would design a hormone…” is embarrassing. The whole point of evolutionary philosophies is that it is a substitution for intelligent design. I can certainly understand why you would ridicule them for that. However, critics should be careful not to generalize from such statements to suggest that this is generally the case. It wouldn’t be fair to say that theories of evolution assume a design, and go from that to make it sound like people who believe in evolution are simply substituting one Designer for another. I see that some of the people who commented on this article have suggested this, but fortunately the author does not make this unfair accusation. Instead, the author discusses the more logical position that everything came about by a series of random, and improbable events. Hoyle’s example of a Boeing 747 is not a very good analogy, however.
That said, in the last paragraph the author is trying to do a little sleight of hand. If people are the result of a series of undirected accidents, it does not mean that there is no design in anything we do. As he points out, we design quite a bit. However, that does not contradict the position that we evolved via a process that does not require design.
Philip Bell
Re: the questioning of the usefulness of Fred Hoyle's analogy of a tornado sweeping through a junkyard, we would disagree. See, Big bang critic dies (Fred Hoyle). You write: "we design quite a bit. However, that does not contradict the position that we evolved via a process that does not require design." How so? Design is the evidence of intelligent agency, forethought, planning, not to mention purpose. The cause of something is always greater than the effect. The sum total of the machinery and inputs constituting a factory that manufactures cars is vastly more complex than the most sophisticated car made in that factory. Substitute the car factory for a creative human being and the car for the things s/he designs. If it is absurd to think of the car factory arising through unguided natural processes, it is illogical to imagine that the human being arose from a process that required no design.
Daniel J.
Richard Dawkins, the apostle of evolution, created the absurd notion that natural selection (which has no inter-species capabilities) is a design engineer. This somewhat akin to grabbing the wind and miraculously transforming such a ghostly apparition into a sophisticated engineering marvel. Dawkins and his presentation has not even reached the level of being specious (plausible but false). If you have not already read the book "Signature in the Cell" by Stephen Myers, then I would suggest, consider it a possibility. Evolutionists dislike Myers with a passion simply because this renowned scientist has exposed evolution for what it really is, a fairy tale of the worst kind.
Niels B.
It amazes me that someone like David Attenborough doesn't recognize his own ID in the nature he so dearly loves.
Glynis H.
Thank you for your very well written and easy to read article! In fact, all your articles!

It continues to stun me, whenever my husband is watching one of David Attenborough's programs, that a man like him who is seemingly so intelligent, could be so ignorant!

Keep up the great work CMI, in providing great articles like this, to encourage us all, in the face of ongoing mockery & distain for our faith!
Dan M.
There they go, stealing from God again.
Excellent article exposing the illogical no-design presupposition of the atheists, (nothing designed everything). They personify nature, (which is illogical to begin with) and give all the credit that belongs to our God, to nature.
It really isn't about who's right; it's about rebellion, Gen 3:9-13. Notice how Adam & Eve tried to shift the blame which is the same thing people are doing nowadays, (nothing has changed). All the problems in the world are someone else's fault! No accountability, no responsibility but shifting the blame won't help them when they stand before God.
I think this article can be summed up by Paul's dissertation in Rom 1:18-32. Also the beginning of knowledge is to first humbly come before God. Pro 1:7 & Pro 9:10. I eventually realised, my biggest problem in life is my pride. My problem is me!
God please help us, we can be so thick headed sometimes!
Bernard G.
Evolution believers believe that nothing created everything. That chaos created order. That non-life created life. That complex, purposeful, symbiotic living things arose by happenstance. They believe that the process of macro-evolution itself got started because of some mysterious ancient unknown reason. They believe that even though nothing in macro-evolution has ever been observed, or tested, or measured, or repeated, or demonstrated by any one, ever - that it still actually somehow happened.
The god of that the evolutionist will accept is a non-intelligent, random, purposeless, aimless, directionless, mindless non-person. And they will tell you, the Christian who rationally attributes purposeful complex specified design to an all-knowing, almighty, eternal being, that you are the crazy one! :)
James K.
Reminds me of my discourse with my evolution believing peers. The way they talk about evolution almost seems like it’s a live autonomous person endlessly tinkering with poor hapless creatures for the purpose of its own amusement. Strange they deny they are religious... evolution is their god.
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