Design Without a Designer?

ALMOST 150 years have passed since Charles Darwin proposed that natural selection explains life’s complexity and diversity. However, his theory of evolution and its modern variations have recently come under attack from those who believe that the marvelously fine-tuned architecture of living organisms indicates purposeful design. Even a number of scientists with solid credentials do not accept the idea that evolution accounts for the array of species we see on earth.

Some such scientists offer a counterargument​—known as intelligent design, or ID—​asserting that design in creation is firmly supported by biology, mathematics, and common sense. They seek to include discussion of this idea in the science curriculum in schools. The so-called evolution wars are raging mainly in the United States, but similar trends are reported in England, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Serbia, and Turkey.

A Puzzling Omission

There is usually, however, a conspicuous omission in the carefully worded defense of intelligent design. That is the absence of reference to a designer. Do you believe that design is conceivable without a designer? Advocates of intelligent design “make no explicit claims about who or what this designer might be,” reported The New York Times Magazine. Writer Claudia Wallis stated that intelligent design proponents are “careful not to bring God into the discussion.” And Newsweek magazine commented that “I.D. has nothing to say on the existence and identity of the designer.”

You can appreciate, though, that it is futile to try to evade the question of the designer. How could the explanation involving design in the universe and of life itself be complete if the existence and identity of the designer were concealed or not even considered?

To an extent, the debate on whether to invoke a designer or not revolves around these questions: Would accepting the existence of a superhuman designer hamper scientific and intellectual progress? Is an intelligent designer called for only when no other explanation is offered? And does it really make sense to infer from the design that there is a designer? The following article will discuss these and related questions.

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Charles Darwin believed that natural selection explained life’s complexity

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Darwin: From a photograph by Mrs. J. M. Cameron/​U.S. National Archives photo