I’m currently reading and thinking about this very question: the book I’m reading now is From Darwin to Derrida by David Haig, subtitled “Selfish Genes, Social Selves, and the Meanings of Life.” Things like intent and purpose do exist, he seems to claim, arising from the existence of organisms who/that make choices.
For me, “purpose” is clearly part of the universe and especially part of the biosphere. “Intent” is squishier and smacks of future-looking teleology but in fact that is what organisms do. Since organisms affect and even direct evolution, it seems to me that we should not be hesitant at all to talk about these things. There is no necessary implication of the involvement of gods, and more importantly, there is no clear departure from norms of scientific thought.
Well, yes and no. Intelligent agency has arisen on earth, so we can’t separate it from design and evolution. But you probably mean to ask whether I’m referring to design without a designer, and yes I am. Gods are human creations, a mixed bag like all human creations, and supernatural designers do not currently have any explanatory value. (Yes, that can always change, but not by gazing at protein sequences or whatever the latest non-scholarship from the ID movement is about.) But more to the point is this: we know that design can emerge from “mindless” processes.