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Intelligent Design Movement

QUESTION: How and when did the intelligent design movement begin?


Thousands of years ago, ancient Greeks and Romans considered the idea that life had been designed by some unknown force. At the same time, they wondered if life had progressed from "higher" or "lower" forms over time. Jump forward to today, and the same two questions are still at war. The intelligent design movement, unlike prior competitors to naturalism, represents a solid, clear, and compelling case for design theory. This newer approach partially explains why the intelligent design movement has endured intense scrutiny yet continued to gain support in the worldwide intellectual community.

Before the modern intelligent design movement began, there were few major works of literature that dealt directly with design. Natural Theology, published in 1802 by William Paley, discussed the evidence for design using the "inferred watchmaker" analogy. The majority of scientists at that time professed belief in a Creator, in one way or another. This was reflected in their studies. To some extent, design was assumed. Evolution lacked a reasonable engine to drive biological change. When Charles Darwin published "The Origin of Species" in 1859, those who preferred evolution had a seemingly plausible mechanism to explain it - natural selection.

Almost 150 years later, the scientific community at large speaks of the "facts" of evolution. Those who propose non-natural causes for biologic effects are soon branded as "ignorant," "superstitious," or "closed-minded." Since many of those proposals had previously been grounded in unwavering theology, they were easily branded as "unscientific." The creation science movements of the 1960s and 1970s were denounced by secular scientists for their religious overtones.

The modern intelligent design movement, however, presents a very different case. In the early 1990s, the movement began gaining steam because of its purely secular approach. Since the intelligent design movement restricts its arguments stringently to science and logic, claims that it is "disguised religion" have had trouble sticking. The intelligent design movement began calling "naturalistic" science out on the carpet. Why, as the intelligent design movement would ask, should any scientific theory be beyond question? If evolution requires some assumptions that can't be proven, why can't design theory?

The early-to-mid 1990s saw the emergence of several scholars who formed the core of the modern intelligent design movement. They crossed religious and political barriers, from agnostics to Catholics, from mathematicians to law professors, to biologists. Literature published by intelligent design proponents such as William Dembski, Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, and Michael Denton gave the movement a platform for debate. Though they differed in their theological beliefs, the focus of the intelligent design movement was never God, morality, religion, freedom, ethics, or philosophy, but rather, equality.

At least one Supreme Court case provided the intelligent design movement with some early legal teeth. The majority opinion of Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) stated that it was not unconstitutional to require the teaching of scientific critiques of scientific theories. This opinion was stated since the court felt that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction."

The approach of the intelligent design movement continues to spark discussion about the origins and development of life. Those who support the movement would note that this is the entire point. Intelligent Design chooses not to argue such points as the age of the earth, the literalism of biblical creation, or even the existence of God. Scientific and logical evidences that support the influence of an aware designer are the only bullets in the intelligent design movement's gun. Arguing only through logic and science, the intelligent design movement forces evolutionists to argue their case based only on provable, observable facts - and to admit the assumptions and gaps inherent to a naturalistic view.

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