Creationism and Intelligent Design by Gerry Barclay (2002)

Revised February 3, 2006; Currently under construction


The following essay describes why creationism and, in particular, Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) are not considered scientific and therefore should not be taught as science in a science classroom. Throughout this essay are links you can click on that will take you to websites that contain further information and clarification of the information being presented. To return to this essay, click the Back button at the top left-hand side of the web page you have navigated to.The links are repeated in the References section at the end of the essay. Also in the Reference section are additional, related links.


Creationism, in its general definition, is very broad and refers to the creation of the universe by a supernatural entity or entities. If a person refers to himself or herself as a creationist, he or she should be more specific. For example, many Native Americans believe that they were created on the spot, here, in North America. They are unimpressed by evidence to the contrary that links their immediate origins to Northern Asia. Native Americans who have this belief system are correctly considered creationists. In the context of this essay, however, I am referring specifically to Christian creationism since this is where the relevant controversy resides. Specifically, it is the desire of certain Christian creationists to have their creation beliefs taught in public schools to the exclusion of all others and to the detriment of the teaching of evolution. These creationists contend that there is a scientific basis for their beliefs, a contention overwhelmingly refuted by the scientific establishment.

Within Christian creationism, there is a broad range of thought. On one end of the spectrum, are those who believe God initially created the universe and its laws but then had no further hand in its development. Christian creationists of this sort generally accept evolution as Godís method of creating species while at the same time accepting Jesus as their savior.

On the other end of the spectrum are Biblical fundamentalists who believe every word of the Bible to be the literal word of God. All living Ďkindsí were created in the first week of creation less than 10,000 years ago and evolution is limited only to within kinds. (A kind is a type of organism. Thus, there is a cat kind, a dog kind, a dinosaur kind, etc.) Further, all major landforms on earth are the result of the Great Flood of Noah, occurring approximately 7, 500 years ago. This form of creationism is known as Young Earth Creationism (YEC) and is the most popular form of Creationism among Americans. Polls indicate that approximately 45% of Americans agree with the statements of the YEC. Despite its popularity, Young Earth Creationism has been soundly refuted by science (see also Rennie, 2002; for several articles on the implausibility of flood geology see The Talk Origins Archive) and rejected by a number of court cases as an alternative or an adjunct to teaching evolution in public school settings. In every court case, YEC was deemed to be not science, but rather religion dressed in scientific jargon. Other forms of creationism exist between the two extremes presented above, each with varying degrees of acceptance of evolution.

A somewhat new form of Creationism emerged in the 1990ís pioneered by now retired law professor, Phillip Johnson. It is called Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) and the basic idea is that life is too complicated to have evolved naturally and thus (so IDC claims), must have been created supernaturally by an intelligent designer. ID advocates not only reject evolution as an explanation for the origin of species but also object to the way science is being practiced: they insist that the definition of science by broadened to accommodate supernatural explanations (See the document, The Wedge, for a complete exposition of ID creationist intentions and strategy. For a critique of the The Wedge strategy, click here.)

The Intelligent Design movement got a big boost in 1996 with the publication of the book, Darwinís Black Box by biochemist Michael Behe. Behe claimed in his book that biochemical pathways were irreducibly complex. That is, since each and every step is required for a successful pathway to reach its endpoint, biochemical pathways must have been created in a single swoop and could not have come about in small steps through a process of gradual evolution. The creator of those biochemical pathways, argues Behe, must have been an intelligent designer.

The arguments of IDC advocates are similar to those of Reverend William Paley, who in the 18th century presented the classic Ďargument from designí thesis. Reverend Paley used the analogy of a watch. If one were to analyze the construction of a watch without having any prior knowledge of its existence, one would be forced to the conclusion that it was not an object created by natural forces but must have been created by design for a purpose. Likewise with life; its complexity reveals design and purpose, Paley claimed. Paleyís thesis has been disputed by many philosophers and scientists including David Hume, Charles Darwin, and more recently by Richard Dawkins.

The main argument against intelligent design (and the older, but similar argument from design) goes like this. By building up layers of complexity step-by-step, natural structures and processes can give the appearance of having been created. Darwin used the example of the eye. In nature are various grades of image detecting devices from simple eyespots like those of Euglena to the complex eye of the mammal (or the better designed mollusk eye). Likewise with the brain: from simple neural clusters in primitive worms, one finds many intermediate states building in size and complexity until the most complex of brains (ours!). So, simple units assembled step-by-step result in complex structures dependent upon all its parts. Ecosystems are another example of irreducibly complex systems.

Ecosystems are built up from simple beginnings (e.g. see  this site) But over time, the various components of the ecosystem (e.g. primary producers like plant, pollinators, seed dispersers) become dependent on each other and the ecosystem suffers irreparable harm if one or more is lost. Thus, the components of mature ecosystems are irreducibly complex yet they are fully explainable in purely natural terms. We can explain many other complex systems in the same way, but what about biochemical pathways?

Biochemists and evolutionary biologists were quick to respond to Beheís claims of irreducibly complex biochemical pathways. First of all, there are biochemical pathways that show, like the eye and the brain, varying degrees of complexity in different organisms and thus illustrate how these particular pathways could have evolved naturally. Others have shown ways by which pathways could evolve by scaffolding and redundancy and in the end become irreducibly complex.

Behe further claims that the evolution of biochemical pathways is an area of research poorly covered by science (purposely so Behe believes). If this is the case (though many scientists disagree), then any definitive claim for the origin of biochemical pathways, natural or supernatural, is at best, premature. This leads us to an essential criterion of science.

Science relies on an open door policy. That is, all questions remain open until answered or the doors stay open and the question remains unanswered. Someday someone may somehow figure out how biochemical pathways arose naturally (or, maybe not). But to close the door on this question by claiming supernatural origin is tantamount to quitting. Imagine the state of science if every time a researcher came up against a seemingly intractable problem, he or she simply threw up their hands and claimed intelligent design. Science remains vibrant by always leaving the door open to further exploration. So, the suggestion made by Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, et al. that supernatural explanations be allowed into science would have the final effect of crippling it.

Other scientists have pointed out what Paley missed and Behe apparently ignored (he should know better): a lot of design appears to be anything but intelligent. Take the male reproductive system (diagram). The course taken by the vas deferens from the testicles to the urethra is a study in torturous pathways. While the design makes sense evolutionarily, from an IDC perspective it must be a bit embarrassing to explain. A designer, even an adequately intelligent designer, could have done much better. Many such examples belie IDC claims. Concerning biochemical pathways, it is incumbent upon Behe to explain why if these pathways were intelligently designed there is so much waste. Inefficiency is not the hallmark of good (not to mention perfect, as one would expect from the implied Intelligent Designer) design.

Another problem with Intelligent Design as science is related to how science is done. The final and most crucial step in the scientific process is publication in peer reviewed publicly accessible science journals. It is not enough to conduct an experiment or make an observation and then proclaim a result. One must submit oneís findings to a scientifically valid journal where experts in the appropriate field scrutinize the findings and either accept or reject them. If accepted, the findings are published for others in the field to review, criticize, debate, or lambaste. This is how healthy science proceeds.

The problem with Intelligent Design (and creationism in general) is that the scientific literature is bereft of IDC publications. George Gilchrist, professor of zoology at the University of Washington surveyed the scientific literature using several scientific databases and found not a single scientific study using Intelligent Design as its basis (also see this link). We are forced to conclude from this interesting exercise conducted by Professor Gilchrist that scientists donít do IDC research. And if scientists donít do it, we canít call it science because at the end of the day science is what scientists do. The recent statement by the American Association for the Advancement of Science on IDC reflects this clearly.

Note should be made here of the relatively recent article in Protein Science by Behe and Snoke.The authors conducted a computer generated experiment that appeared to show the improbability that a point mutation would result in an amino acid substitution in a protein that would be beneficial. A comprehensive refutation to this experiment can be found both here and here. Briefly, one problem with this investigation is that it did not consider other types of mutation. The Human Genome Project, for example, has discovered multiple families of genes created by gene duplication. Gene duplication, it appears, has been an important engine for evolution. Also, Behe and Snoke only considered the probability of one substitution in a single protein. This is analogous to considering the chance that a particular individual will win the lottery. That chance is extremely high, roughly about 1 in 20 million. But, if enough people play, the chances of somebody winning reduce to absolute certainty. Likewise for the evolution of proteins: consider over 3.6 billion years of life the number of times cells have divided. With each division there is a chance of mutation. With each mutation the chance of a protein evolving that is beneficial. Like the lottery, the probability of a beneficial mutation evolving rises to certainty.

More recently, IDC has received a couple of public refutations. In Dover, PA, 11 parents sued the local school board for mandating IDC in the classroom. Teachers were instructed, but refused, to read a statement endorsing IDC.The case was tried before federal judge, Judge Jones, who ruled that not only is IDC not science, it has a religious intent, thus violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment and thus, has no place in a public school science classroom. This was the first federal case involving IDC and a major defeat for its proponents. To read the entire text of Judge Jonesí decision, click here. Another outcome of the trial was the ouster of the school board members who had supported this policy.

Another blow came from the Vatican. The Vaticanís official newspaper published an article defending evolution and saying intelligent design was not science. This follows on the heels of another pronouncement by the Vatican that the Bible and evolution are not incompatible.

More support from religious quarters for evolution has recently surfaced.Over 10,000 clergy have signed on to support The Clergy Letter Project.As the Vatican has stated, these clergy agree that evolution and a belief in God are not mutually exclusive.On February 12th, Darwinís birthday, many churches are participating in Evolution Sunday. Pastors of these churches will give sermons on the compatibility of science and religion.

One of the great privileges of being an educator is having academic freedom. This means that as a teacher, I can present controversial topics or say controversial things (within reasonable limits) and not have to worry that it might cost me my job. However, above and beyond academic freedom is academic responsibility. Whatever view I may have on a particular topic, I have a responsibility to tell the truth and to present matters as they are, not how I might wish they would be. As a science teacher, I am obligated to teach science as the world of science has determined it is.Where Creationism in general and its fledgling, Intelligent Design, have been tested; they have failed (this is especially the case with YEC). And in other cases, tests have apparently not even been attempted or, given their supernatural nature, could not be (this is especially the case with IDC).Creationism, including Intelligent Design Creationism, is not science. It would be dishonest and a disservice to students to present these concepts in any other light.

Evolution is not something I teach because I like the sound of it (although I agree with philosopher Daniel Dennett that it is "single best idea anyone has ever had"), I teach it because it has been shown by a mountain of evidence to be the way of life. All living things have evolved by common descent over millions and millions of years; it is one of the great facts of life. Evolution is rightly the foundational concept of all biology. This is a fact supported by the scientific community and many other communities as well (see below for more links) and that is how it should be presented in every biology class throughout the world.


Evolution pervades all biological phenomena. To ignore that it occurred or to classify it as a form of dogma is to deprive the student of the most fundamental organizational concept in the biological sciences. No other biological concept has been more extensively tested and more thoroughly corroborated than the evolutionary history of organisms.

National Academy of Sciences 1998.


Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Theodosius Dobzhansky


NOTE: this section is under construction. Links are in the process of being updated. I apologize for any inconvenience.



References (click on link to go to website). 2002a. Review of The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. For more on Dawkins see The World of Richard Dawkins at Evolution and the human eye.


Abramson, Paul. 2002. Introduction to Creationism.


Access Research Network. 1998. Michael Behe.


Access Research Network. 1998. Phillip E. Johnson.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. 2002. AAAS Resolution on Intelligent Design Theory.


American Association of University Professors. 2002.Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.


Behe, Michael J. and David W. Snoke. 2004. Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues. Abstact. Protein Science.


Biology Online. 2002. Succession of an Ecosystem.


Catalano, John (editor). 2002. Beheís Empty Box.


CBS News. 2004. Mega Millions Winner Was Bankrupt.


Clergy Letter Project. 2006.


Colby, Chris et al. 2002.Evidence for Jury-Rigged Design in Nature.


CITA. 2004. DNA and Native American Origins.


Crystal, Ellie. 2002. Native American Myths of Creation.


Cziko, Gary. 1995. Without Miracles: 5 Brain Evolution and Development. - Heading2


Darwin, Charles. 1859. On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. Chapter Six.


Decelle, Paul. 1999. Euglena Homepage.


Dunn, C.S. 2004. Primary Succession.


Economics New School. 2004. David Hume.


Gilchrist, George. 2001. The Elusive Scientific Basis of Intelligent Design.


Hale, Steven. 1997. Creation Myths from Around the World.


Human Genome Project Information. 2004. International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium Describes Finished Human Genome Sequence Researchers Trim Count of Human Genes to 20,000-25,000.


The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2002. David Hume Writings on Religion.'s%20Writings%20on%20Religion


Johnson, D.R. 1996. Introductory Anatomy: Excretory & Reproductive Systems.


Kamin Online. 2001. Poll: Creationism is more popular than ever.

Long, Manyuan. 2001. Gene Duplication and Evolution. Science.

Lynch, Michael. 2005. Simple evolutionary pathways to complex proteins.

Meyer, Stephen C. 2004. The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 117(2):213-239.

Miller, Kenneth. 2002. The Evolution of Vertebrate Blood Clotting.


Musgrave, Ian F., Steve Reuland, and Reed A. Cartwright. 2004. Theory is as Theory Does. The Pandaís Thumb.


National Academy of Sciences. 1998. Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science.


National Center for Science Education. 2001a. Legal Background.


National Center for Science Education. 2001b. Voices for Evolution.

Statements from scientific organizations:

Statements from educational organizations:

Statements from civil liberties organizations:

Statements from religious organizations:


Rennie, John. 2002. 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense.


Robison, Keith. 1996. Darwinís Black Box (Review).


Scott, Eugenie. 2000. The Creation/Evolution Continuum.


Shanks, Niall and K.H. Joplin. 1999. Redundant Complexity:A Critical Analysis of Intelligent Design in Biochemistry. PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE, 66 (June 1999), pp. 268-298.


Sze, Emily Lei Pi. 2002. Theodosius Dobzhansky. Emuseum.


Stear, John. 1999. The Evolution Evidence Page.


The Talk Origins Archive. 2002. Flood Geology.


Theobald, Douglas. 2002 29 Evidences for Macroevolution. Part 3.


US Forest Service. 2000. Biological Responses to the 1980 Eruptions of Mt. St. Helens,


The Victorian Web. 2002. Natural Theology of Paley. Or, if you would like to read the original text of Natural Theology by Paley go to:


Wikipedia. 2008. Gene Duplication.


Wikipedia. 2007. Point Mutation.


Yee, Danny. 1996. Review of Daniel Dennettís Darwinís Dangerous Idea.


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