Intelligent design:
Constant Tampering by the Designer?
by Joe Meert
(created Sept 5, 2000)
Updated May 1, 2001
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Too Complex?

     Michael Behe has argued that certain complex biochemical pathways lead inexorably to the the conclusion that they were designed by an intelligence. Similarly, ID proponents in cosmology argue that the Universe is simply too fine-tuned to have arisen through a series of ‘random’ fluctuations. Recently, authors Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee have argued in Rare Earth1 that life in our own galaxy may be quite rare and that only a very small number of stars host conditions that are suitable for complex life. While Ward and Brownlee do not go so far as to say that life was a special design here on Earth, their work will no doubt find favor with ID proponents and the fringe supporters of ID, young-earth creationists (Indeed, reading through the recent reviews of this book on Amazon, I see that several creationists have held it forth as evidence for ID!!). Behe has become somewhat of a celebrity for his book Darwins Black Box2 and his argument that certain biochemical systems cannot evolve independently since the system will not function through a series of intermediate (incomplete) steps. His most widely-celebrated example is that of a mousetrap. Behe argues that if you remove one component of the trap, it will not work. Interestingly his mouse-trap example has garnered more criticism than many of the biochemical examples in his book! I am not a biochemist, however, it does appear that Behe has struck a nerve within the biochemical community by pointing out that the evolutionary history of many biochemical pathways have never been shown.  Behe argues, ipso facto that an intelligent designer must be responsible for these irreducibly complex systems.  While Behe does not implicitly specify the designer, it is clear that he believes the designer is likely the Christian God (see below). Other proponents of ID, such as William Dembski, also make similar proclamations regarding the identity of the intelligent designer. My point here is not to quibble about the question as to the identity of the intelligent designer, but rather to wonder about his/her/its workload. In doing so, I must admit that the discussion that follows is based on the idea that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old and that the age of the Universe is somewhere in the range of 13-17 billion years old.

     Before I go on, let me concede certain facts in the argument that follows. The first is that not all biochemical pathways and systems have  been completely described in terms of their evolutionary development nor should science be faulted for not having all the answers. Having said that, there is a wealth of discussion about the evolutionary development of several of the irreducibly complex systems in Behe’s book. For example, the evolutionary development of the flagella is addressed by Szathmary (1987)3. Other examples can be gleaned from the literature by scanning any number of online reference lists such as PubMed. The point is not to argue back and forth about whether or not the evolutionary sequence of every irreducibly complex system has been completely described, but rather I wish to discuss the implications of irreducible complexity and the workload of the intelligent designer(s). Let me also concede that in terms of testing the irreducible complexity of biochemical systems, the fossil record will likely remain silent.

     Let me start with the assumption that an intelligent designer does exist. Having established this ‘fact’,  I must decide if the intelligent designer works alone or as part of an intelligent design ‘factory’. Given that intelligent design has been used as an argument for anything from the ‘fine-tuning’ of the Universe/Solar system to the development of irreducibly complex biochemical systems; the intelligent designer must also either exist for a long time (and outside of time) or pass along his/her/its talents to offspring. The process of intelligent design (ID) begins with the ‘fine-tuning’ of the Universe. This leads to a number of philosophical questions that must be answered by ID ‘theorists’. For example:

    1. Was the Universe designed in one go? Were all the stars, galaxies and planets conveniently placed?
    2. Were the physical laws governing our Universe decided before the Universe was designed or is there constant tinkering of these laws by the ID’er?
    3. Given the current age estimates for the Earth (4.5 billion years) and the Universe (13-17 billion years), what motivated the ID’er to design our planetary system?
    4. Given that time itself was designed at the moment the Universe came into existence, does this signify that the ID’er transcends time?

    These are important questions.   One young Earth creationist I know suggested that many ID proponents are not 'Christian', and indeed some are atheists.  No one has provided specific examples of who these are, but I suspect the most famous would be David Berlinski (a mathematician who finds evolution impossible and God equally unlikely).  Berlinski must explain who/what this Intelligent Designer is since he/she/it must (seemingly) transcend time.  Berlinski is hardly an ally for the ye-creationist movement and yet it seems that they will embrace his ideas simply because he argues against evolution (a point that makes at least one creationist uncomfortable--see later).  Other ID 'theorists' whose names pop up during debate are Michael Denton and Lee Spetner.  Interestingly, both Spetner and Denton are clear about who the original source of intelligent design is.    Spetner is a Jew and, at least from a philosophical standpoint, his religious views run contrary to fundamentalist Christianity.  Why are the religious views of these authors important?  Some of the leaders of the ye-creationist movement view ID without the involvement of the Christian God as heretical (see later), therefore at least Berlinski's views should cause some angst; however, the most young earth creationist's will agree with just about anyone who argues against evolution.

     Let me focus a bit on our own planet and attempt to read into the mind of the ID’er. A number of ID theorists accept macroevolution (Behe, for example). Behe’s argument for ID stems from the fact that he has identified a number of biochemical pathways that he argues must have been designed because they are ‘irreducibly complex’ (IC). Others have taken up the fight in defense of IC, but let me give several useful examples by either Behe or others. An online article by ‘Mike Gene’ noted that some Archea lack a ‘chaperone mechanism’ while others have it, in its entirety. The details of the chaperone mechanism can be found in this article along with the claims that it represents an IC system. For now, I will accept that this is an IC system requiring a ID’er. The next example, used by Behe in ‘Darwins Black Box’ is the bacterial flagellum also assumed to be an IC system requiring an ID’er. Behe also comments, in an online article:

"The intracellular transport system is also quite complex. Plant and animal cells are divided into many discrete compartments; supplies, including enzymes and proteins, have to be shipped between these compartments. Some supplies are packaged into molecular trucks, and each truck has a key that will fit only the lock of its particular cellular destination. Other proteins act as loading docks, opening the truck and letting the contents into the destination compartment."

    No doubt many other IC examples can be cited by ID ‘theorists’ to support their arguments. My point here is not to argue about the details of each and every IC system, but merely to accept the arguments and point out the ramifications of the arguments. For this purpose, the examples cited above will suffice. Behe (and others) have given examples of IC systems that were ‘designed’ over a time span of ~3 billion years (from the design of the Archea to the design of plants and modern animals). This implies a designer who is constantly modifying life on our planet and producing IC systems in a variety of organisms. The ID'er must also be capable of making mistakes along the way-- on the one hand guiding evolutionary change up to a point and then having his/her/its hand forced into making a change and develop an irreducibly complex system.  This harkens back to a ‘God of the gaps’, a notion that is anathema to young earth creationists. It is surprising therefore, to find so many young earth creationists touting the ID theory since the only common link is the presence of some ‘eternally intelligent designer’. It seems to be a rather unholy alliance (pun-intended). The upshot is that either ID proponents must adopt a young earth philosophy in order to avoid the conclusion that the ID’er is one who fills in the gaps, or that young earthers must adopt a bumbling ‘God of the Gaps’. 

     In one sense, ID is not new, it has merely been dressed up in a clever costume.  Henry M. Morris, former director of the Institute for Creation Research points out:

"This new creationism is really not very new, except perhaps for the terminology. Progressive creationists, as well as traditional creationists, have been documenting intelligent design (that is, the magnificently organized complexity of every living creature) and "abrupt appearance" (that is, the complete absence of any true transitional forms in the fossil record) for well over 150 years."

     The last point I wish to make is that neocreationism (in the form of ID) is simply a clumsy new device try and reintroduce religion into the public science classroom. The proponents of the 'new' ID theory do not even agree on the basic points as noted by H. Allen Orr:

"What is less obvious is that these new-wave anti-evolutionists disagree among themselves on just about everything. They don't go out of their way to broadcast this fact, but take a look: Behe thinks the primordial cell was designed, but that old-fashioned evolution took over from there, producing all the species we now see. But Johnson questions almost all evolution, including common descent and the fossil record that Behe trusts. Behe thinks the data point to an intelligent Designer, while Berlinski claims he's no creationist, he merely questions the sufficiency of Darwinism. Similarly, Behe has no problem with natural selection, while Berlinski seems to have no problem with anything but natural selection."

The characteristics of the designer are seldom stated outright, but one need not look far to find clues as to who the designer might be. As Behe notes in yet another on-line article:

"I grew up in a Catholic family and have always believed in God. But beginning in parochial school I was taught that He could use natural processes to produce life. Contrary to conventional wisdom, religion has made room for science for a long time. But as biology uncovers startling complexity in life, the question becomes, can science make room for religion?"

Or as Henry M. Morris succinctly states:

"But it will not be so if they stop with just the evidence for design and leave the Designer—the God of the Bible—out of it. Even though we intentionally limit our debates (and some of our books) to the scientific evidence, everyone in the audience and among our readers is well aware that we are really undergirding Biblical creationism (including recent Creation and the global Flood), because that is our clearly stated position. "

     The ID theory of people like Behe and Johnson is ultimately incompatible with young earth creationism.   Ye-creationists have formed an unhealthy alliance with the neocreationists because ultimately, they are both fighting to have God declared as the intelligent designer.  The question in the minds of the young earth creationists is, of course, which God?   In my opinion, the God of Behe is a Tim 'the tool man' Taylor God who is constantly tinkering with his design.  This ID'er is also not always happy with his creations as he/she/it apparently wipes out design nearly as often as he/she/it creates it.  In my opinion, ID theories of the Behe/Johnson ilk are not only bad science, they are bad theology.  On this last point, both Henry Morris and I agree.

NOTE: I came across this site describing the goals of ID theorists to use ID to help overcome the moral decline in American society.  To the best of my knowledge, no ID'er has come forth to deny these goals.


  1. Ward, P.D. and Brownlee, D., Rare Earth : Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, 2000, Copernicus books, 333 pages.
  2. Behe, M.J., Darwins Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Free Press, 1996, 307 pages.
  3. Szathmary, E., Early evolution of microtubules and undulipodia, Biosystems 1987;20(2):115-31.

Other On-line Articles on Ye-creationism by Joe Meert:

Other Articles on Irreducible Complexity: