Launched by Phillip E. Johnson’s book Darwin on Trial (1991), the intelligent-design movement crystallized in 1996 as the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC), sponsored by the Discovery Institute, a conservative Seattle think tank. Johnson, a law professor whose religious conversion catalyzed his antievolution efforts, assembled a group of supporters who promote design theory through their writings, financed by CRSC fellowships. According to an early mission statement, the CRSC seeks “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its damning cultural legacies.”

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The infamous August 1999 decision by the Kansas Board of Education to delete references to evolution from Kansas science standards was heavily influenced by advocates of intelligent-design theory. Although William A. Dembski, one of the movement’s leading figures, asserts that “the empirical detectability of intelligent causes renders intelligent design a fully scientific theory,” its proponents invest most of their efforts in swaying politicians and the public, not the scientific community.

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Over time, new evidence will certainly find some of these examples in error, and that’s a good thing because science is about refining our understanding of the truth. The Theory of Evolution is strong enough that nearly half these examples could be disproved and the evidence would still be fairly overwhelming. There is so much in this world that only makes sense in the light of Evolutionary Theory.

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To understand why the scientific community has been unimpressed by attempts to resurrect the so-called argument from design, one need look no further than Michael J. Behe’s own essay. He argues that complex biochemical systems could not possibly have been produced by evolution because they possess a quality he calls irreducible complexity. Just like mousetraps, these systems cannot function unless each of their parts is in place. Since “natural selection can only choose among systems that are already working,” there is no way that Darwinian mechanisms could have fashioned the complex systems found in living cells. And if such systems could not have evolved, they must have been designed. That is the totality of the biochemical “evidence” for intelligent design.

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Now to respond to something Jason and several others have brought up in the comments, which concerns the idea that evolution disproves religion. I have absolutely no idea why some religious people are so incredibly offended by the idea that species gradually change over time in response to environmental stresses in a way similar to humans growing more mature over their lifetimes in response to life experiences. It seems many of them think the theory disproves their religion’s origin story for human beings, but the same thing happened in 1600 when was burned at the stake for suggesting there were worlds other than Earth and was placed under arrest for suggesting the Earth was not the center of the Universe because the church believed these ideas completely discredited religion… and yet, here we are today, looking through telescopes at hundreds of exoplanets and galaxies at the edge of the Universe, and even the church accepts these facts without losing faith in their scriptures. If you were so incredibly wrong in the past, but were able to reconcile your religion with the idea of an Earth moving through the Cosmos as one of trillions of worlds out there, why not consider that you might not be wrong today and reconcile your worldview to allow for a chain of life that extends back billions of years and holds the promise of extending and improving into the future?

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Most biologists have concluded that the proponents of intelligent design display either ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation of evolutionary science. Yet their proposals are getting a hearing in some political and educational circles and are currently the subject of a debate within the Ohio Board of Education. Although Natural History does not fully present and analyze the intelligent-design phenomenon in the pages that follow, we offer, for the reader’s information, brief position statements by three leading proponents of the theory, along with three responses. The section concludes with an overview of the intelligent-design movement by a philosopher and cultural historian who has monitored its history for more than a decade.