Intelligent Design or Designer?

by Dr. Terry Mortenson on March 1, 2020
Featured in Answers Magazine
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What does the Intelligent Design movement get right, and what does it leave out?

World-famous atheist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins said, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”1 Yet he and most other evolutionists deny that these “complicated things” were designed and created by God.2

Many people suppress the obvious truth that creation testifies of its Creator (Romans 1:18–20; Psalm 19:1; Job 12:7–10). From single-celled creatures to the largest animals, from atomic to astronomic levels of creation, we see amazing design that points to an incredibly intelligent Designer.

Young-earth creationists have used intelligent design arguments for decades, but more recently, the Intelligent Design movement (IDM) has joined the chorus—though in a slightly different key.

Young-earth creationists have used intelligent design arguments for decades, but more recently, the Intelligent Design movement (IDM) has joined the chorus—though in a slightly different key.

So what is the IDM?

The Intelligent Design Movement

The man who essentially launched the IDM was Phillip Johnson, a University of California Berkeley law professor. His 1991 book Darwin on Trial argued that Darwinian evolution dominated modern culture not because of scientific evidence but because science is controlled by the philosophy of naturalism. He made that case without any reference to the Bible. Subsequently, Johnson wrote several more books, enthusiastically endorsed by leading Christians, arguing the same points and casting a vision of how to defeat Darwinism and naturalism in science.

Since 1991, the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington, has been the leading think tank for the publication and promotion of intelligent design arguments consistent with Johnson’s origins battle strategy. That strategy has been to expose the scientific problems of the naturalistic biological evolution and to confront philosophical naturalism’s control of science—while leaving the Bible out of the discussion.

The leadership of the IDM has been religiously eclectic from the start. Prominent authors in the IDM include Presbyterians, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, agnostics, and secular Jews.

Additionally, while there are a few young-earth creationists involved with the Discovery Institute, most IDM leaders accept the millions of years of geological and cosmic evolution, although they differ on how that “deep time” fits with their beliefs about God or the Bible. But many do also accept some form of biological evolution, just not the naturalistic (i.e., atheistic) form of evolution.

So what are we to make of this movement? Is it helpful? Should we embrace its strategy or completely reject it? To answer those questions, consider four strengths and four weaknesses of the IDM.3

Four Strengths of the IDM

  1. IDM leaders have helped to refute the supposedly overwhelming scientific evidence for purely naturalistic biological evolution. They have presented scientific evidence that the fossil record, natural selection, and mutations do not support the claim that all forms of life are descended from a common ancestor simply by time plus chance plus the laws of nature working on matter.

  2. Although young-earth creationists have pointed to the amazing design in creation for many decades, IDM authors have increased the sophistication of design arguments by discussing irreducible complexity4 in living things and outlining detailed criteria for distinguishing the results of intelligent design from the products of natural processes. These arguments affirm that faith in the existence of an intelligent designer of the universe (rather than blind chance) is intellectually reasonable.

  3. Along with creationists, IDM authors have highlighted the critical issue of the genetic information encoded in the DNA molecules of every plant, animal, and human. They have shown that it is impossible for natural processes to explain the origin or addition of genetic information to change one kind of creature into another kind. Information comes only from a mind, not from matter, but evolutionists deny that there is a mind outside of creation.

  4. IDM authors have repeatedly contended that science (indeed all of academia) is controlled by philosophical naturalism. This philosophy or worldview holds that nature is all that exists and that everything can and must be explained by time plus chance plus the laws of nature working on matter. In other words, this is the worldview of atheism. Arguably one of the most prolific authors in the IDM, William Dembski, clearly stated,

    Why must science explain solely by recourse to undirected natural processes? We are dealing here with something more than a straightforward determination of scientific facts or confirmation of scientific theories. . . . In the creation-evolution controversy we are dealing with a naturalistic metaphysic that shapes and controls what theories of biological origins are permitted on the playing field in advance of any discussion or weighing of evidence. . . . It is this metaphysic that constitutes the main target of the design theorists’ critique of Darwinism.5

We should be thankful for these contributions by IDM leaders. They have increased the opposition to Darwinian evolution—at least the atheistic version. However, Christians should carefully consider the weaknesses of the IDM.

Four Weaknesses of the IDM

  1. IDM leaders intentionally ignore the age of the earth and naturalism’s control over the thinking of geologists and astronomers. Although IDM authors frequently comment on naturalism’s overall control of science in a general way, the movement is unwilling to discuss naturalism’s control of geology and astronomy, scientific fields that provide the supposedly irrefutable evidence for the claim that the universe and earth are billions of years old. This unwillingness to examine naturalism’s control of these sciences explains why most IDM leaders reject young-earth creation. Dembski stated,6

    I myself would adopt [young-earth creation] in a heartbeat except that nature seems to present such strong evidence against it. . . . In our current mental environment, informed as it is by modern astrophysics and geology, the scientific community as a whole regards young-earth creationism as untenable.7

    But that same scientific community also considers intelligent design to be untenable. And it is not astrophysics and geology that make belief in a 6,000-year-old creation untenable; it is the naturalistic assumptions controlling those sciences. Furthermore, naturalism took control of geology before it took control of biology and astronomy.8 So by exposing and opposing naturalism’s control of biology while also accepting the biblically incompatible ideas of millions of years of earth history and of the big bang theory with its supposed billions of years of cosmic history, IDM leaders are tolerating and facilitating naturalism’s control of geology and astronomy, arguably the two most important scientific disciplines addressing the question of the age of the creation.

  2. The IDM ignores the Bible, especially Genesis. Phillip Johnson put it this way: “The place to begin is with the biblical passage that is most relevant to the evolution controversy. It is not in Genesis; rather, it is the opening of the Gospel of John.”9 But like all the other biblical writers and Jesus, John clearly believed and taught that Genesis was literal history.10 Genesis is absolutely the place to begin the origins debate, especially for any Christian who claims to believe the Bible is God’s Word.

    Genesis is absolutely the place to begin the origins debate, especially for any Christian who claims to believe the Bible is God’s Word.

    In their weak defense of young-earth creation, two young-earth leaders in the IDM said, “Our advice, therefore, is to leave the issues of biblical chronology and history to a saner period. Christians should unite in rooting out the tedious and unfruitful grip of naturalism, methodological and otherwise, on learning.”11

    However, by leaving biblical chronology and history to a “saner period” or rejecting the biblical chronology and history altogether, these Christians are seriously failing to root out naturalism’s damaging grip on education. In fact, they are aiding and abetting that grip, which has also powerfully influenced the church. Furthermore, there never will be a “saner period” because the age of the creation is not an intellectual but rather a spiritual issue: will we believe God’s clear Word on this question, or won’t we?12

  3. Leaders of the IDM either ignore or reject the Bible’s teaching about God’s curse on the whole creation. Scripture reveals that God created a “very good” creation in which there was no crime, war, death, disease, animal predation or extinction, thorns, asteroid impacts, tsunamis, hurricanes, or other natural disasters. These moral and natural evils are the result of God’s curse after Adam and Eve’s rebellion and of Noah’s flood (Genesis 3:14–19, 8:21; Romans 8:18–23). Creation bears witness not only to an intelligent Designer, but also to God’s holy wrath against sin.

    Intelligent design arguments alone don’t adequately explain reality. Evolutionists repeatedly respond to IDM arguments by pointing to examples of natural evil and asking, “What kind of an intelligent Designer created this bad thing?” Because IDM proponents do not address the fact and implications of Adam’s fall in sin and God’s consequent curse on creation, secularists’ arguments are left unaddressed, and IDM arguments fail to persuade.

  4. IDM arguments don’t point to the God of the Bible but rather to an undefined intelligent designer. As stated above, Scripture clearly teaches that creation infallibly reveals the God of the Bible.

    Many people have been convinced of intelligent design. But if they die without repenting of their sins and trusting in Jesus Christ as their only hope of salvation, their belief in an undefined intelligent designer (even if called “God”) will be tragically inadequate on Judgment Day.

The dogmas of millions of years and evolution are an assault on the Bible’s teaching on the original creation and the fall, on the character of God, on the authority of Scripture, and on the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ—which begins in Genesis.13 Using only intelligent design arguments won’t help us win the fight against naturalism because we need the Bible to break evolution’s grip on the culture. We must build our understanding of origins on the foundational, authoritative, and historically literal truths of Genesis 1–11 and never refrain from using and defending the truth of Genesis in our witness to lost sinners.

You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

The IDM defends a creator behind the intricate design of the universe, but many of its leaders accept some form of biological evolution, most believe in millions of years, and all dismiss or minimize the creation and flood accounts and the genealogies in Genesis 1–11. The IDM’s success today is due in large part to publications by these leaders. Christians must use discernment when reading their books.

Phillip Johnson: Popular Books

  • Darwin on Trial
  • Reason in the Balance
  • The Wedge of Truth

Douglas Axe: Popular Books

  • Undeniable

Michael Behe: Popular Books

  • Dawin’s Black Box
  • Darwin Devolves

William Dembski: Popular Books

  • Intelligent Design
  • The End of Christianity
  • The Design Revolution

Jonathan Wells: Popular Books

  • Icons of Evolution
  • Zombie Science

Stephen Meyer: Popular Books

  • Signature in the Cell
  • Darwin’s Doubt
Dr. Terry Mortenson is a well-known speaker and writer for Answers in Genesis–US. He earned his PhD in history of geology from Coventry University in England, and his MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.

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  1. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 1996), p. 1.
  2. See Terry Mortenson, “What Can We Learn about God from Creation,” Answers (July–August 2019), p. 34–37.
  3. For more on this subject, see my DVD lecture Intelligent Design vs the ID Movement on the Answers in Genesis online store. You can also watch it free at or at
  4. Irreducible complexity refers to a system that will not work unless all the parts are present and working together. For example, a mousetrap won’t snap shut unless all the pieces are working in tandem.
  5. William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 114.
  6. He officially dropped out of the IDM in September of 2016 to focus on other issues (see “Official Retirement from Intelligent Design,” Bill Dembski blog, September 23, 2016,
  7. William A. Dembski, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2009), p. 55.
  8. See my AiG web article “Philosophical Naturalism and the Age of the Earth: Are They Related?” and my DVD lecture “Millions of Years: Where Did the Idea Come from?” based on my book The Great Turning Point, both on the Answers in Genesis online store.
  9. Phillip Johnson, The Wedge of Truth (Downers Grove, IL: IV Press, 2000), p. 151.
  10. See Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury, eds, Coming to Grips with Genesis (Green Forest, AR: New Leaf, 2008).
  11. Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds, “Young-Earth Creationism: Conclusion,” in J.P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, eds., Three Views of Creation and Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), p. 100.
  12. Concerning the age of the creation, see chapter five in Terry Mortenson, ed., Searching for Adam (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2016), also at
  13. For more on the evolution/millions-of-years attack on these critical doctrines, see Terry Mortenson, “The Fall and the Problem of Millions of Years of Natural Evil,” Answers in Depth 7 (2012):


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