Reasons to Believe

Can Science Identify the Intelligent Designer?

We live in a world that values tolerance and religious pluralism. Because of this widespread attitude, perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the questions I’m most often asked by non-Christian academics relates to the identity of the Designer. They want to know, how does the scientific case for intelligent design specifically identify the God of the Bible as the Designer?

I answer this question differently than many of my friends associated with the Intelligent Design (ID) Movement. They argue that scientific inquiry cannot determine the Designer’s identity. Christian ID proponents maintain that there are nonscientific reasons why they believe that the biblical God is the Designer, but they insist that the Designer’s identity is not a question science can address.

I respectfully disagree. I think that science has the wherewithal to provide sufficient clues that allow us to infer the Designer’s identity. To appreciate why I would adopt this position, I need to first explain why intelligent design has a place in science.

Intelligent Design Is Part of the Construct of Science

Because of the influence of methodological naturalism (the philosophical position that scientific explanations must be restricted to natural processes), many people assert that intelligent design lies beyond the bounds of science. Yet a number of scientific disciplines are predicated on scientists’ ability to detect the activity of intelligent agents and distinguish that activity from natural processes. For example, forensic scientists can determine whether or not an individual died as the result of natural processes, by accident, or by the intentional action of another person—an intelligent agent. Anthropologists can examine pieces of rock and determine whether the stones were intentionally fabricated into a tool by a hominid (such as Neanderthals) or merely shaped by natural processes. In the quest to identify alien civilizations, researchers at SETI monitor electromagnetic radiation emanating from distant stars looking for signatures that bear the hallmark of intelligent agency. In the early 1970s, Leslie Orgel and Francis Crick proposed directed panspermia to explain the origin of life on Earth, and they even suggested ways to scientifically test this idea.

Science does have the toolkit to detect the work of an intelligent designer and distinguish it from natural causes and events. If so, then why can’t scientific inquiry determine if an intelligent designer played a role in the origin, history, and design of life and the universe? It seems to me that it can, and I would argue that it has.

Science, not only possesses the capacity to detect the work of intelligent agency, it also has the means to provide insight about the agent’s characteristics. Crime scene investigators can determine if a murderer was left-handed or right-handed, the probable height of the culprit, etc. Anthropologists can glean a tremendous amount about the biology and cognitive ability of hominids by examining the tools they made. If SETI scientists were to detect a signal that emanated from an alien civilization, no doubt they could discern something about the aliens that sent it by analyzing the signal’s properties and studying the star system that generated the signal.

The Scientific Case for God’s Existence and the Identity of the Designer

So, what can we infer about the identity of the Intelligent Designer from science? A handful of scientific insights provide some important clues.

Astronomers have learned that the universe had a beginning. This means that it must have a cause, and that this cause exists outside the universe itself. To put it another way, a transcendent cause brought the universe into existence. (For many people, this knowledge provides evidence for God’s existence.) If we take the transcendent cause to be the Intelligent Designer, then the Designer must reside beyond the universe and must be powerful enough to cause the universe (Genesis 1:1). Astronomers also believe that time began when our universe began, suggesting that the Intelligent Designer must operate outside the confines of time (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 40:28).

Astronomers and astrophysicists have learned that the fundamental parameters, constants, and characteristics that define the universe must assume precise values for life to exist. This fine-tuning suggests that the universe was designed for a purpose. (Again, many people view the fine-tuning of the universe as further evidence for God’s existence.) Design and purpose are qualities that derive from a Mind. This insight about the fine-tuning of the universe means that the Intelligent Designer must have personality (Job 38–41).

The constancy of the laws of nature and the orderliness of the universe indicate that the Designer is not capricious. Instead, the Agent responsible for the universe appears to be unwavering and unchanging (James 1:17; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).

The repeated occurrence of the same designs throughout biology and the universal nature of biochemical systems imply that a single Designer produced life, not an ensemble of designers (1 Corinthians 8:6).

Advances in our understanding of biochemical systems revitalize William Paley’s watchmaker argument for God’s existence. The remarkable similarities between the architecture and operation of biochemical systems and human designs indicate that the cell’s chemical systems are the work of a Mind. This observation also suggests that a resonance exists between the mind of human designers and the Intelligent Designer. To put it another way, human beings appear to be made in the image of the Intelligent Designer (Genesis 1:26–27).

The beauty on display throughout the universe and the marvelously fascinating creatures that make up the biological realm demonstrate that the Designer possesses an artist’s flair and playfulness. The Intelligent Agent responsible for life seemingly takes great delight in what He has made (Genesis 1:31a; Psalm 104:26).

There are many such evidences, but I believe that this short list provides us with sufficient insight about the Designer’s qualities that we could reasonably conclude that the Intelligent Designer is most likely the God of the Bible.

But a skeptic might raise the question about so-called bad designs in nature. What about all the pain and suffering? Do these features of nature mean that the Intelligent Designer is malevolent? Do they imply that the Intelligent Designer is incompetent? Not necessarily. It is hard to argue that the Creator who could bring the universe into existence lacks competence. And when we examine supposed bad designs more carefully, we often find compelling reasons to view the “bad” designs as actually good designs. Junk DNA has become the quintessential case in point.

As for pain and suffering in the world, a number of philosophers have pointed out that there may be good reasons why the Intelligent Designer would create a world where pain and suffering exist. And science provides some clues as to what those reasons might be.

It is remarkable to me how strong the scientific case is for intelligent design. As a Christian, I don’t find it all surprising that the scientific evidence directs us to the God of the Bible. After all, Scripture teaches that God has revealed Himself to us through the creation.

Resources

Subjects: Intelligent Design Movement

Dr. Fazale Rana

In 1999, I left my position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because I felt the most important thing I could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence—evidence that is being uncovered day after day—for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture. Read more about Dr. Fazale Rana