What’s The Difference Between Intelligent Design Theory And Creationism?

What is Intelligent Design Theory?

Many living systems show complicated planning. There are thousands of living systems that cannot be explained by any step-by-step natural process.

It looks like only an “intelligent designer” could have put it all together. A growing group of scientists are beginning to face up to these facts.

There are two main groups of scientists who think this way: Intelligent design theorists and scientific creationists. There are some other groups but these are the largest ones.

Intelligent design theory scientists simply point out that chemistry and chance cannot explain how living things were made. The science just doesn’t add up. This idea is not based on the Bible or a religion. (1) These scientists do not call themselves “Creationists” at all.

Dear Internet: Please stop mixing up Intelligent Design and Creationism

Now - Scientific Creationism is different from Intelligent Design Theory. Both groups think living things must have been planned and built on purpose.

The difference is that scientific creationism says only God could have built the universe. Intelligent Design theory simply points out things in nature that had to have been designed.

The idea of Intelligent Design Theory is to “follow the facts wherever they lead.” If the facts show that something must have been planned and built, scientists should own up to that fact.

Intelligent Design Theory: What Is Design?

Using an illustration is the easiest way to explain Intelligent Design Theory.

Imagine walking along a beach one day when you discover a small, round, gold object on the sand. You pick it up to discover the object is flat.

One side has tiny numbers and two pointers on it, one smaller than the other. You look closer and realize the pointers move around the numbers and there is a ticking sound coming from the object. Finally, you notice that the numbers seem to match the time of day.

It looks like you found a pocket watch, doesn’t it? Well, you could think, “Gee, this object must have taken millions of years of sand, water and wind bumping pieces into each other to get put together.”

I suppose you could imagine this…

Ingredients? Oh just some dirt...

Anyway, you might imagine a piece of metal being pushed along by a stream until it bumps into two tiny sticks. You could imagine years and years of tiny accidents banging into the piece of metal until tiny marks that look like numbers get scratched into the surface.

But there are a few problems with this idea…

  • Inside the pocket watch, you find dozens of complicated gears, springs and coils.
  • The complicated gears, springs and coils move the pointers.
  • The pointers and the numbers all match the time of day. It appears that the pocket watch has a purpose – to tell the time of day.

It seems that imagining this object could have come about by the accidental shifting of sand, water and wind is pretty silly. Even if you wanted to believe it, no one has ever seen something as complicated as a pocket watch get built by accident.

Obviously, all of these parts had to be put together on purpose or the pocket watch would not work.

This is called “design” - complicated, connected pieces put together for a purpose.

It's just one piece of the puzzle in Intelligent Design Theory.

Intelligent Design Theory: What Is Irreducible Complexity?

It does seem obvious that a watch was planned and made by someone rather than an accident. A watch is an example of something that has many complicated, well-matched parts.

Each part of the watch needs the other parts in order to work. If one of the parts is missing or doesn’t do its job right, the whole watch doesn’t work. This is called “irreducible complexity.” (2)

On the opposite side of this analogy is any piece of furniture from Ikea, where there is ALWAYS at least 1 piece missing.

Irreducible complexity is:

  • Something that doesn’t work unless all the parts are in place.
  • Something that doesn’t work if parts are missing.
  • Something that cannot be explained by any step-by-step, natural or accidental means.
  • Something that had to be put together.
  • Something that had to function while it was being put together.

In other words – something that was built by someone.

Intelligent Design Theory: How Is Intelligent Design Theory Seen In Nature?

How is Intelligent Design Theory seen in nature? Well...

A single animal or plant is made up of thousands of complicated parts. Each of these parts is also made up of thousands of even smaller complicated parts.

Evolutionists believe that all of these parts came about and were put into the exact right place by a natural step-by-step process. They think it all happened by accident.

This sounds like imagining that a pocket watch was built by the natural shifting of sand, water and wind, doesn’t it? So how it that supposed to work?

Well – evolutionists think this natural step-by-step process happens when mistakes, also called mutations, happen in DNA codes. These mistakes supposedly create new information in DNA codes.

Now remember, DNA codes tell life-forms how to grow. When animals or plants reproduce, DNA codes are passed down to the next generation.

Left: DNA | Right: Someone being told how to "Grow"

If mistakes are made in the DNA codes of the parents, the babies can get seriously affected. Most of the time, these mistakes either kill the offspring or seriously mess it up for life.

Okay, the whole Evolution idea is based on these DNA mistakes. But NO ONE has ever seen a “good” DNA mistake. In fact, scientists have only ever seen DNA codes LOSE information.

But for Evolution to work, some creature out there in the distant past supposedly gained a good DNA mistake. This creature got brand new, beneficial DNA code information.

Of course – no one’s ever seen this but we’ll just believe it anyway because it sounds scientific. On with the story…

So – some offspring with the new and improved DNA code information are changed by this mistake. This tiny, accidental difference somehow helps the new creature survive better than the parents.

This is called “natural selection”. After many millions of years, these tiny changes are supposed to change one kind of creature into another.

Now remember boys and girls…

  • These changes are supposed to make complicated, well-matched parts!
  • Each part needs all the other parts in order to work.
  • If one of the parts is missing or doesn’t do its job right, then the whole thing doesn’t work.

Okay, okay – someone out there is pounding on their computer screen shouting, “Don’t you know that all kinds of amazing things can happen by accident.”

Yeah – sure amazing things can happen by accident. But can mistakes from one generation to another explain things that are irreducibly complex?

Picture Unrelated.

That’s not just amazing or crazy luck – we’re wondering if something like a pocket watch can just happen by accident.

That’s what we need to see if Evolution is true.

So - Intelligent Design Theory points out that real science shows way too many examples of things that cannot be explained by any random, natural step-by-step process. And Creationism makes this same argument.

Intelligent Design Theory: A Real Example From Nature.

Want to see how this works in the real world? Just think about butterflies. Everybody knows that caterpillars become butterflies. But caterpillars are very different from butterflies.

  • Caterpillars are designed to crawl. Their body parts are designed to cling to leaves and branches.
  • Caterpillars have mouth parts designed for chewing and eating leaves.
  • Caterpillars have a stomach system designed to digest leaves.
  • Caterpillars have special glands designed to spin silk. They can spin a fine silk cocoon around their own bodies.

It seems from everything that we can see on the outside that a Caterpillar is a creature specially designed to live, eat and breathe in a specific environment.

But, of course, the Caterpillar has a secret…

The Secret is that this game must be terrible...

...Did you know that caterpillars have no reproductive organs? It’s true. In other words, they don’t lay eggs. They don’t have any baby caterpillars.

Instead, as we all know, caterpillars spin a cocoon and later come out as a butterfly. Butterflies, however, are designed to fly, not crawl.

  • Butterflies do not have mouth parts designed for chewing and eating leaves. Instead, butterflies have a long, tubular mouth part designed for sipping nectar out of flowers.
  • Butterflies have a stomach system designed to digest nectar, not leaves. There is a big, big difference between a stomach designed to digest nectar, which is a liquid, and a stomach designed to digest leaves, which are a solid.
  • Butterflies do not have special glands designed to spin silk.

You know the interesting thing about butterflies is that they do have reproductive organs.

Butterflies can lay eggs. They can have babies! But wait! Butterfly eggs only hatch into…caterpillars.

Hmm – that’s sort of unexpected, wouldn’t you think? I mean, we are so familiar with this story we don’t stop to think how weird it really is.

After all, humans give birth to baby humans, dogs give birth to baby dogs – but butterflies give birth to an entirely different creature.

Seems suspicious...

That’s just creepy. But sort of cool in a weird sort of way! Every elementary student in the world has probably been fascinated when the teacher put a caterpillar in a terrarium.

They waited for it to eat the leaves. They counted the days after it disappeared into a cocoon. And then the miracle – a butterfly…or a moth if you had a lame teacher like I did, but that’s a whole different story.

Anyways, back to intelligent design theory…

These two animals seem to be completely different from each other. But they are, in fact, the same animal. Now, if Evolution is true, there has to be some sort of accidental way this system came into being. Somehow, tiny mistakes in the DNA code of one creature caused it to become another creature – while STILL staying the same creature.

Now this is a story that could win some bucks in Hollywood. Think about it…

Somehow some caterpillar-like creature slowly changed, just by accident, into a butterfly. But how was that supposed to happen when caterpillars do not have any reproductive organs?

Perhaps we can imagine a butterfly-like creature that slowly changed, just by accident, into a caterpillar. But why would the new caterpillar-like creature be perfectly designed to turn back into a butterfly?

Here's a Butterfly Nebula for you to look at while you contemplate all this fun stuff!

Darn - even if we could imagine a caterpillar-like animal that did have reproductive organs, what about explaining the amazing cocoon system? A caterpillar in a cocoon actually melts. No kidding – it literally melts into a jelly, a gross-out mixture of different cells.

You want to know what’s even weirder (is that even a word?)

Different types of butterflies re-arrange this gross-out jelly in the cocoon in different ways too – they are all different. (3) Scientists have no idea how butterflies are built from this mix. They have no idea how the building process is directed either. (4)

Butterflies and Caterpillars are an example of an irreducibly complex system. This is what the Intelligent Design Theory guys are talking about. This is what the Creationist folks are getting all fired up about too.

All of the parts for this system have to be in place from the beginning, or the system just doesn’t work. There is no natural, step-by-step way to explain how this kind of system started in the first place.

Some scientists have some very exciting imaginations. They write all kinds of “just-so” or “maybe like this” stories. But they have not shown…

  • Any examples from the past that caterpillars were ever anything other than caterpillars. Not one fossil. Not one example.
  • They have not shown any examples from the past that butterflies were ever anything other than butterflies either. Not one fossil, Not one example.

In fact, Evolutionists cannot explain where the entire group of animals called insects (arthropods) came from in the first place! (5) All we find in the fossils and from examples of these creatures today is what every elementary student studies in science class – caterpillars turn into butterflies.

Along with other topical subjects, led by this guy!

It looks like these creatures had to have been planned and built. Their life-system had to have been complete, right from the start, just the way the Bible says.

There is no way anyone can show how these animals came to be by any step-by-step process. (6)

Intelligent Design Theory: What It All Means.

There are thousands of examples in nature that are irreducibly complex. (7) In fact, there are so many examples, it seems easier to believe a pocket watch could be built by accident from the movement of the wind, sand and sea.

On the other hand, it seems much more reasonable to believe a pocket watch was designed and built for a purpose.

It also seems more reasonable to believe the same thing about living things. After all, living things like butterflies are by far more complicated than a pocket watch anyway. (8)

Intelligent Design Theory: How to remember this:

Butterfly hearts come from caterpillar PARTS:

Tears-down any
Step-by-Step explanation.

My name is Patrick Marks, and I am the author of understanding-creationism.com and the book "Someone's Making A Monkey Out Of You."

I live in Surprise, Arizona, along with my wife and 5 kids. My oldest two sons currently serve in the United States Navy.

I am the Pastor of FourteenSix Christian Church. In my off time I write everything from non-fiction books to screenplays, play guitar, and dabble in drawing and painting.

(1) http://www.discovery.org/csc/aboutCSC.php. (net) “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection… Intelligent design theory is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the "apparent design" in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations. Creationism is focused on defending a literal reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the Biblical God a few thousand years ago. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text.”

(2) Behe, Michael J. Darwin’s Black Box. New York, Touchstone: 1996. Print. p. 39 “By irreducibly complex I mean a single system which is composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.”

(3) Sherwin, Frank. “Butterflies vs. Macroevolution”. Origins Issues. Institute for Creation Research., 2010. Web. Feb 2005. “Detailed metamorphosis studies done on different insect species shows only that the ways organ systems are formed are quite varied. This is not what Evolution would predict.

(4) Milton, R., Shattering the Myths of Darwinism, Park St. Press: 1992. p. 220. Quoted from Sherwin, Frank. “Butterflies vs. Macroevolution”. Origins Issues, Institute for Creation Research., 2010. Web. Feb 2005. “. . . no stage or aspect of this physical process can be accounted for or even guessed at with our current knowledge of chemistry, physics, genetics, or molecular biology, extensive though they are. It is completely beyond us. We know practically nothing about the plan or program governing the metamorphosis, or the organizing agency that executes this plan.

(5) Osorio, D, J. P. Bacon, and P. Whittington. 1997. The Evolution of arthropod nervous system. American Scientist vol. 95, p. 244. As quoted from Sherwin, Frank. “Butterflies vs. Macroevolution”. Origins Issues, Institute for Creation Research., 2010. Web. Feb 2005. “As Darwin noted in the Origin of Species, the abrupt emergence of arthropods in the fossil record during the Cambrian presents a problem for Evolutionary biology. There are no obvious simpler or intermediate forms—either living or in the fossil record—that show convincingly how modern arthropods evolved from worm-like ancestors. Consequently there has been a wealth of speculation and contention about relationships between the arthropod lineages.

(6) Gish, Duane T. The Amazing Story of Creation. Green Forest, AR, New Leaf Press: 1996. Print. P. 53 “The Evolutionary scenario could never produce a butterfly by changing a caterpillar into a mass of jelly. But God, the master engineer of the universe, programmed a mass of jelly to develop into a delicately sculptured butterfly.”

(7) Behe, Michael J. Darwin’s Black Box. New York, Touchstone: 1996. Print. p. 187 “In the face of the enormous complexity that modern biochemistry has uncovered in the cell, the scientific community is paralyzed. No one at Harvard University, no one at the National Institutes of Health, no member of the National Academy of Sciences, no Nobel prize winter – no one at all can give a detailed account of how the cilium, or vision, or blood clotting, or any complex biochemical process might have developed in a Darwinian fashion.”

(8) Ibid. p. 193. “Life on earth at its most fundamental level, in its most critical components, is the product of intelligent activity. The conclusion of intelligent design flows naturally from the data itself – not from sacred books or sectarian beliefs. Inferring that biochemical systems were designed by an intelligent agent is a humdrum process that requires no new principles of logic or science.”

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