ID - Who is the Designer Behind the Curtain?

There have been many threads dealing with the science around specific instances offered by proponents as biological demonstrations of intelligent design, and then subjected to rebuttal arguments from several scientists on this board. I have learned a great deal from these discussions. As many of these discussions are inherently quite technical, they often touch on questions of larger scope which if pursued would be distracting. There are a top view theological or philosophical issues around ID that I would like to see explored, because it is transparent that these often are the real motivations behind the interpretation of empirical data being discussed.

One of these is what is the relation between the purported design and the identity and moral quality of the designer? I have posed this now on a few occasions and the only response I have received from ID proponents is that is a separate question. So fine, would anyone now care to address the separate question? In the course of several threads, I have seen offered as striking examples of intelligent design deathly infectious diseases, camouflage which only exists to perpetrate or avoid carnavoury, and even the macabre example of wasp larvae which eat their hosts in the slowest manner from the inside out. All designed with intricacy and intimate immediacy. ID references the human mind as a test mechanism (I do not agree with the mechanism part, but that does not matter here) - so ask, what can we learn of the human mind by way of what it designs? Well, some minds design artifacts of utility and beauty, other minds make objects of pain and destruction. Design reflects the moral quality of the designer. As CS Lewis wrote

She was beautifully, delicately made,
So small, so unafraid,
Till the bomb came.
Bombs are the same,
Beautifully, delicately made.

So if the instances advanced for the detection of design; lethal H1N1, elaborate camouflage to enable stealth, and parasitic reproduction, are admitted in the province of science, then who is the designer behind the curtain? Given that the great majority of ID proponents are my fellow Christians, the general approach is to maintain that empirical science demonstrates the existence of design, and then Christian apologetics and theology complete the metaphysical picture. Conveniently, God emerges as the only viable candidate for designer, as aliens and extra-dimensional beings have failed to secure advocates. But there is another candidate, rarely advanced, who might well fit as the designing mind of the blood soaked earth.

Lucifer, the devil himself.

Consider the case. The relation of design and designer is immediate, of craftsman and craft is intimate; disparate parts of eagle’s eye, talon, and beak, melded with the assemblage of a magnificent instrument of death - small wonder human killing machines are named after such a marvel of nature. Tennyson penned that nature was “red in tooth and claw” as a response to his friend’s death, and the poem extends grief from the personal to the extinction of species and relentless and pervasive struggle for life.

Now it can be objected that this is an unduly dour take and on balance life is a net positive, that projecting the human experience of suffering and loss on nature is anthropomorphic, and the methods of mortality operate more on a Disneyish “circle of life” basis where getting eaten is just an untidy episode needed to maintain balance. But if a moose being driven crazy by thousands of ticks could talk, he might suggest that is naive and pollyannaish, and there is a great deal of pain, both essential and pointless. With all of its carnivoury, famine, and parasites, could this be the best of all possible worlds created by the God above which nothing greater can be imagined?

Most apologetics squares evidence of pain with the goodness of God by some means of arm’s length, the free will defense with the consequential fall. With its emphatic insistence on the designer’s micro-management of nature from feather to enzyme, ID takes that option completely off the table. Nor does the fall offer a way out, as ID exactly argues that the features of nature are not adapted, but rather are purpose built. There is no autonomy in design, the design and the designer are inextricably linked. The premise of ID means that suffering is not permissive, but deliberate and purposeful. It is authored, in exquisite detail, by the designer, and this is true even if one maintains that science only recognizes design, and that the argument is limited. The moral quandary of ID can only be deferred, not eliminated.


Why require just one designer? Maybe God designed some things, Lucifer others. For that matter, why stop at two? One might reasonably conclude that the most parsimonious solution is that there are a great many designers, perhaps even one (or more) per species.

When I ponder these theological questions I keep coming back to one thought: What is heaven supposed to be like? If God can create a realm where there is no suffering, then why build this universe?


Then there are predator/prey evolutionary “arms races” which need a Designer explanation. Recently over at UD the locals were incredulous about a science article on just such a thing. Bats evolved echolocation to hunt insects at night. Turns out there’s a certain species of moth which has evolved sound dampening thorax scales which help the moths evade bat sonar detection (and thus not be eaten). From an evolutionary standpoint natural selection explains the evolution of such a defensive trait perfectly. Someone asked why the Designer would go to all the trouble of designing bat echolocation then design an insect feature specifically to defeat it. Of course the ID crew had no answers beyond the usual “the Designer works in mysterious ways”. :slightly_smiling_face:


Repeating a comment I made elsewhere: Fine-Tuning arguments require the Designer to be God, or some entity of equal capability.

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ID proponents really like to talk about different codes - the genetic code, the RNA code, the sugar code, etc… The funny thing is, each code is a different language. The simplest and most obvious explanation when one is presented with books (or papers, or essays, or whatever) written in different languages is to assume (quite correctly) that they were written by different authors. If we follow the ID proponents’ obsession with a multiplicity of codes to its logical conclusion, then multiple designers (authors) is the best explanation by far.

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The problem of Theodicy is inherent to all monotheisms. Dualist forms of Zoroastrianism avoided it, and the “contraption” called Original Sin innoculated generations of Christians against thinking about it.

Cephalopods were definitely farmed out to a third party design firm.


Then the aardwolf must have been the result of subcontractor confusion.

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The platypus and echidna are even worse!

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You assume that the Designer of the universe must be the same person as the designer(s) of species. Why?

I thought that the “Designer” liked complexity.

I have elsewhere mentioned PID, Polytheistic Intelligent Design. This explains the platypus, as Bacchus can think up some pretty weird stuff when on a bender.

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I doubt if you’re going to see many ID-ers engage with the OP. Doing so would blow their cover.


Well, it is obvious that one can make inferences about the Designer from the designs. Whether one stops, with Haldane, at the inordinate fondness for beetles, or whether one goes deeper, the best guide to the nature of an unknown designer is its work.

ID writings usually hold, however, to either the “weak” or the “strong” inscrutability view. The weak view is that ID “does not concern itself” with inferences about the designer; the strong view is that inquiry into the designer is somehow improper, unwarranted or impermissible. All that these inscrutability positions tell us is that ID is religion; no scientist ever made a discovery and said that inquiry into the deeper causes underlying the discovery was not permissible. And nobody genuinely interested in design would ever declare that he is not at all interested in who’s doing the design.

That’s the first thing: assert “design” as a cause for living things, and the designer will and must be the subject of inquiry. There is no possibility of asserting “design” without it, in fact, because the inference of design depends upon assumptions about the designer, e.g., that the designer wants to make things which are functional. Discard that assumption about the designer’s motives, and you throw out the whole argument from design.

So, for those who believe in a supernatural designer, there is bad news. Once your god is claimed to act in the world and produce physical results, your god is within the scope of science, and no amount of standing astride science yelling “stop!” will prevent inquiry – EMPIRICAL inquiry – into your god. NOMA collapses. The @swamidass position that “science is silent on God’s action” collapses (though one can still argue that an event like de novo creation of Adam and Eve, though subject in principle to scientific investigation, is insulated from it by the lapse of time or other practical considerations).

We can then test propositions which the theist is not comfortable with testing. For example, one of the postulates of Christian faith is that its god is a morally good god. We can now, as you have pointed out, examine nature for consistency with this. Does this god avoid unnecessary suffering, for example? No amount of philosophical fan-dancing will get one around the fact that we can now make judgments of this character: that if the designer is a creator-god, the nature and inclinations of this god, from fondness for beetles on down, falls squarely in the range of our ability to observe. And if the scientific ad-hoccery of the YECs offends your sense of reason, the philosophical/theological ad-hoccery required to somehow cram YHWH down into this creation without discarding a lot of conventional beliefs will make your head spin.

And it bears mentioning here that the beauty of this is that science CAN speak to these things, where history cannot. We cannot credit historical claims of the paranormal when they are placed at great distance and leave few traces. But the doings of the divine, if they include the creation of all living forms, are very much in the here and now. Science can speak to them, and history cannot; we can set the Bible and all of the other scriptures aside, and move to the real issues themselves, in measurable and observable terms. Would the theologians be happy with an empirical theology, whose only solid ground is nature? I think it would put most of them, with their strange obsessions with the delicate parsings of strange and ancient texts, out of work.


That is a claim that only makes sense if we adopt a reduced view of God, inconsistent with much of Christian theology and the history/philosophy of science. Methodological naturalism does stand within science (not astride it) yelling “stop!” It does this with good reason too, which is made clear in the history of science.

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Well, the truth of Christian claims is the thing to be tested. It’s not the source of the criteria for testing. If protecting it from examination requires philosophical fan-dancing, that’s just the problem. With the fan dance comes the surrender of any claim to factuality. The credibility of these fan-dance claims is the same as that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s claim:

“But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage. We have numerous texts that describe in detail how this can be possible and the reasons why He does this. He is of course invisible and can pass through normal matter with ease.”

This is exactly the same claim. It has exactly the same credibility and the same utility.

Supernatural events simply ARE scrutable if they actually happen. If Uri Geller can bend a spoon, this is a demonstrable fact. If things which evolved may bear the stamp of their lowly origin, things created may bear the stamp of their lofty origin. Let’s be realistic here, and let’s call things what they are. If a force operates in the world, we can examine it, by whatever name it is called. If it doesn’t operate and can’t be detected, sure, it’s inscrutable, but it’s also irrelevant.

Inscrutability is not a demonstrable aspect of a god. It is an ad hoc excuse; and it would be a more tolerable one if those who employ it did not pretend, contrary to their own assertions, to know things about their gods.

And, do bear in mind: the null hypothesis is non-existence of your gods. To say that scrutinizing them “reduces” them seems a bit silly. The question is whether there is anything there to reduce. You cannot get out of the legitimacy of that question by assuming that there is nothing there that will bear examination.


The ID argument is not about the designer it is about evidence of design in nature. The evidence for the designer is a different argument. No-one is claiming that deeper inquiry is “not permissible” it is simply not part of the argument that Behe is making.

If a purposeful arrangement of parts is put as evidence of design, you are assuming a conscious designer with purposes.

If irreducible complexity is put as evidence of design, you are assuming a designer with the ability to solve engineering problems.

The point is that the evidence of design put by ID is dependent on the designer having certain characteristics. ID should not be pretending to make no assumptions about the designer because it necessarily is.


I’m not disputing that that’s what ID proponents claim. I’m just pointing out why they claim it.