Intelligent Design advocates finally sneak God back into their “science”

April 7, 2019 • 12:30 pm


The video below, in which Intelligent Design creationist Stephen Meyer explains ID to conservative writer and speaker Ben Shapiro, accomplishes two things—beyond demonstrating that Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, continues, despite withering criticism from scientists, to bang on about supposedly unevolvable “complex specified information” and the Cambrian Explosion as evidence for the Great Designer.

First, the video has eliminated any trace of respect I had for Ben Shapiro. Although I’m opposed to nearly all (well, let’s just make that all) of Shapiro’s political opinions, I thought his rhetoric was useful in challenging Woke college students who hadn’t thought through their views.

But now Shapiro has cast his lot with creationism, albeit the “sophisticated” form of creationism adumbrated by Meyer and his cronies. Shapiro is now beyond hope; it’s never not a good move for someone who pretends to be an intellectual to ally himself with thoroughly debunked pseudoscience.

Shapiro is, of course, an Orthodox Jew, but I thought that, contra Orthodox creationists, he had at least some respect for science. But he’s been moving towards ID creationism for some time, and now he’s clearly bought the whole hog.  You can argue whether babies have souls (Shapiro thinks “yes”), but it’s a different issue to say that evolutionary theory is deeply flawed, for that’s a matter of empiricism.

Second, the video nakedly reveals the ultimate goal of the ID movement revealed: to sneak God back into the science classroom. I discuss that below, showing that Meyer reveals what we knew all along: IDers conceive of the Designer as the Christian God. That, of course, was part of the Discovery Institute’s secret (but leaked) Wedge Document that, back in 1999, outlined a strategy to attack materialism in science and replace it, in both professional science and the science classroom, with Jesus. I quote from that document; emphasis is mine.

The very beginning of this [Wedge] strategy, the “thin edge of the wedge,” was Phillip Johnson’s critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. Michael Behe’s highly successful Darwin’s Black Box followed Johnson’s work. We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions. 

To get their creationism taught in the schools, IDers had the clever strategy of taking God out of the theory, at least explicitly. They then pretended that there was just some unspecified “mind” behind evolution, and that mind could be God, but it could also belong to space aliens or any overweening intelligence. But that was a lie: IDers wanted all along for the Judeo-Christian God to be the Designer. And you didn’t have to be a scientist to see this, for that was the decision of Judge Jones when he rejected the teaching of ID in Dover, Pennsylvania schools as a form of disguised religion. The replacement of “God” with “Designer” was clearly a duplicitous tactical strategy.

Those familiar with Meyer’s “theories” of ID, contained in his two books Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, will see them trotted out in the video below. I won’t waste time showing how they’ve been rebutted, but will just give you some links to read (you can see other criticisms in the Wikipedia entry for Meyer). Some good rebuttals of Meyer’s creationism can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

At 47:44, Shapiro asks Meyer how he connects ID theory to God. Meyer explains that “it takes a mind with conscious awareness to generate information in a digital form”, and that such a conclusion is at least “theistic friendly.” Meyer then says he’s writing another book about cosmology and physics—The Return of the God Hypothesis—using as evidence for God “anthropic fine tuning” and the idea of the “Goldilocks Universe”. And that evidence of design, as well as the origin of the Universe itself, cannot, says Meyer, cannot be explained by “an agent within the cosmos”, so space aliens are out.  Meyer concludes that theism itself is the best explanation of all the evidence from biology, cosmology, and physics.

So there we have it. Meyer is trotting out the same shopworn arguments—fine-tuning, the anthropic principle, and the Cosmological Argument—claiming that together they show that the designer is a theistic God. There’s nothing new in what he says, but I guess the ID people decided it’s time to bring God out from behind the screen to complete the Wedge Strategy.

Over at Evolution News, the flaccid house organ of the Discovery Institute, David Klinghoffer extols the video below, showing Meyer in discussion with author and speaker Eric Metaxas. Klinghoffer osculates Meyer’s tuchas copiously:

Meyer, a philosopher of science, talks about the move to the next frontier in the argument for intelligent design. His forthcoming book, which is going to be huge, is The Return of the God Hypothesis. [JAC: the book’s subtitle is Compelling Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God]. With Metaxas, who imperfectly disguises his own brilliance behind a hilarious comic persona, Meyer explains the origins of his thinking about design in cosmology and biology, tracing those back to a 1985 conference he just happened to attend in, yes, Dallas.

The YouTube notes say that this talk was “taped at the 2019 Dallas Science and Faith Conference at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas sponsored by Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.”  You’ll hear some of the stuff that pushed Meyer towards his new book, including our supposed impotence to understand the origin of life, the existence of “complex specified information” (again), our failure to understand consciousness, and so on.

Starting at about 42 minutes in, Meyer starts making the case for God as “the designing intelligence.” The evidence is pretty much the same as above: the supposed fine-tuning of the laws of physics, the existence of a “Goldilocks Universe”, and so on. These things, argues Meyer, are “built into the cosmos from the very beginning”, and so can’t be created by some within-the-Universe being like a space alien. Ergo, the designer is God.

Very clever, but physicists don’t accept the cosmological data as evidence for God. They remain solidly atheistic.

Seriously, if God wants us to accept Him, why can’t he just come down to Earth and do a few irrefutable miracles that can be witnessed, photographed, and so on? (On pp. 118-119 of Faith Versus Fact, I lay out evidence that would provisionally convince me that there is a God, and I believe Carl Sagan also sketched the kind of evidence that would convince him that God existed.) Why, then, is God invisible? Is He testing our faith by denying us evidence of His existence, so that only those who are able believe without evidence get saved?

But now I venture into theology, and that’s the realm of Meyer and his colleagues.  I’ll merely quote the philosopher Delos McKown: “The invisible and the nonexistent look very much alike. ”

h/t: Stacy

76 thoughts on “Intelligent Design advocates finally sneak God back into their “science”

    1. Yes, indeed. I am reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses these days. Jupiter was a serial rapist, though.

        1. So we owe almost all the fascinating mythology of the Greek pantheon, which influenced Roman mythology and has inspired Western culture ever since, to the fact that Zeus was a randy bastard who wanted to bonk everything in sight.

          I *like* it!!



  1. ” IDers conceive of the Designer as the Christian God.” For Klinghoffer, make that of course the Jewish God.

    Do not underestimate the virulence of cross-infection by creationist ideas among all three Abrahamic religions, to which, under Mohdi, we might have to add Hinduism.

  2. Your mention of whether God is testing our faith by not making a current, unquestionable appearance intrigues me. Why would any half-way rational person worship a deity that is so insecure that he requires his adherents to jump through a series of hurdles to prove that they have faith in him? Of course, the answer is that a large percent of humankind has not reached the level of being half-way rational.

  3. Just fyi: Park Cities Baptist Church is a very wealthy and large-membership baptist church in North Dallas.

    (The best known church is First Baptist in downtown Dallas, which is the world’s largest church and has influence on Trump and GOP.)

    1. Re: First Baptist, Dallas: once led by the Rev. W.A. Criswell, author of “God or Gorilla,” IIRC.

  4. That Myers fellow rattles on at a pretty good clip. He seems to not want his audience to think too long and hard about what he’s actually saying. At this rate, I suspect Shapiro is going to run out of volunteers to appear on his show.

  5. What drives me most crazy about all this ID stuff is that the DI/their publisher somehow has convinced the Library of Congress to file their religious pseudo-science under science. This is yet another way to slither into legitimate science. It may seem like an insignificant thing, but it’s a cultural sneak attack to get your religious book placed next to a science book in a bookstore or library and it really says a lot when the only way to legitimize your religious “reasoning” is through co-opting scientific language, distorting scientific discoveries, and sneakily associating your book with science ones. In other words, you need to resort to underhanded methods to infiltrate and many manipulate minds. Isn’t this what Christians try to pin on Satan all the time?

    1. Some of us spend a bit of our time in libraries and bookshops (especially the latter) quietly removing such interlopers from the ‘science’ section to the ‘fantasy’ shelves.

    2. I once re-shelved Darwin’s Black Box (by Michael J. Behe) into the religious beliefs/spirituality section in a UK bookshop, but in the last 10 years or so I have not seen it in the Science section (or actually seen it at all).

  6. Someone of your profile could probably get on Shapiro’s show. It would be excellent to see you on there and destroy the myth of ID science

      1. Shapiro has “debated” Sam Harris. Sitting across the table from smart people works in his (Shapiro’s) favor. To the poorly educated, it appears that Shapiro is holding his own.

        1. As Dawkins said when he refused to debate William Lane Craig, “Look good on his CV, not so good on mine”.


  7. And of course, I’m obliged to paste the Douglas Adams quotient about the puddle here because it perfectly addressed these stupid arguments about the Goldilocks Universe, etc.

    This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’

  8. Many a deep thinker will have one particular area where they have a serious blind spot. They may have deep and interesting thoughts in some areas, whereas in others they will be completely blind. For instance, some very serious and respectable thinkers bizarrely like dogs. (Others like gods.) Sometimes you just need to give them a pass in this area and only look at the areas where they have an actual contribution to make.

    That said, Shapiro isn’t one of these. It’s worthy to respect Shapiro for his debating skills. He is top of the game. It’s not unlike someone who is incredibly good at golf. But that doesn’t make him a broad or deep thinker. Shapiro’s views are either standard conservatism or, more often, come out of the debate itself. It’s the debate where he thrives. He has chosen a side, and goes all in. He’ll use whatever arguments can win the debate in the moment, rather than stepping back and thinking more broadly.

    1. I agree with your characterization of Shapiro. I’ve never found this combination of attributes to be the least bit respectable. Debate skills are a tool. It depends on how you use it. People like Shapiro put too high a priority on winning the debate at the expense of all other considerations.

  9. You have to take this serious when they start selling you life insurance. That is always the clue for me – just sell me some life insurance.

    To me this Myers is just full of it. Just look at the digital code he says and that means g*d is right there in the mix. Funny how he sees that and Darwin did not. Around every corner and under every rock, there he is, this g*d in plain sight. How can we not see this.

    1. Of course “Darwin did not”. The digital code nature of DNA did not become apparent until a century after Origin. (and Darwin had his own ideas on how attributes were passed on to offspring, but they were wrong).

  10. Shapiro is, of course, an Orthodox Jew, but I thought that, contra Orthodox creationists, he had at least some respect for science.

    Shapiro has long been a anti-science person that pretends he is otherwise. He argues strenuously that the supernatural framework popular at the time and place of his birth (“Judeo-Christianity”), just happens to be the best supernatural framework.

  11. You wouldn’t even need to know what kind of evidence would convince you – God should already know that and could tailor the evidence to each individual.

  12. Thanks to Jerry for citing my own Panda’s Thumb post of 2014 with its critique of Dembski, Ewert and Marks’s arguments about “evolutionary search”. Alas, that post of mine turned out to be based on a misreading of DEM. For those who care, the fourth of the series of links Jerry gave should be replaced by this link to a post by Tom English and I at PT, correcting that post and refuting DEM’s strawman argument.

  13. Stephen Meyer, in an attempt to find scientific support for religion: “The origin of the universe, we now know, had a beginning.”

    This is false – we don’t know that. All we know is that we don’t have the tools (physics) to describe things prior to the big bang.

    Sean Carroll knocks down the myth that “we know the universe had a beginning”:

    1. “All we know is that we don’t have the tools (physics) to describe things prior to the big bang.”

      There are many definitions of “big bang”, mind. The best suited to current inflationary cosmology is the Hot Big Bang, and Planck probes the physics before it (but admittedly nit very deep in time).

  14. I just don’t trust any interview in which the interviewee starts virtually every answer with “Good question! Thanks for asking me that.”

    People like Stephen Meyer must love this format for getting their points across as it allows them to explain things from their point of view without any challenge whatsoever. With a friendly interviewer like Shapiro, he can even introduce his own strawman challenges and then knock them down.

  15. Shapiro has always given me the creeps. Though he is clever and can argue well, there’s something slippery about him. Not someone I would want to hang out with. And definitely not someone who exudes the “goodness” that ‘Believers’ want us to think they all possess. What a bunch of BS these people live by. Shapiro is more interested in his own glory and pocketbook than believing in a loving god, methinks.

    1. His verbal style comes across as a bit puerile to me. Something about his cadence and the snideness in his tone.

      1. Now that we’re into personal attacks, I feel safe to add that his voice approximates that of Porky Pig. 😎

        1. LOL, I didn’t think I was going full on ad hom but it’s the impression I walk away with when I hear him make a point.

      1. Lol rickflick. I didn’t want to mention that squeaky voice, but you’re absolutely right. If he wasn’t so slippery and weasel-y (no offence to weasels), I could get past the voice, but he’s just so…creepy.

        1. Yes. I didn’t want to hammer on about his creepiness, but I couldn’t help it. If I had to guess (and why not), he’s had some difficulty establishing satisfying human relationships and takes it out on society by being a conservative.

  16. If God is a being than which no greater can be conceived, which one is less ridiculous: one that is perfectly undetectable, or one that can be detected with a good microscope?

    1. Why is existence more perfect than non-existence? Non-existence has no possibility if imperfection; existence will always have that possibility.

      Anselm was assuming two things:

      His ability to define God’s perfection and his ability to understand something. supposedly beyond human understanding.

      The sins of vanity and blasphemy.

  17. “…why can’t he just come down to Earth and do a few irrefutable miracles that can be witnessed, photographed, and so on?”

    Why miracles—that is, something that defies the laws of physics? If there’s a God who created the universe, including laws of physics, why would defying the laws of physics establish his existence? If the laws of physics aren’t themselves evidence of his existence, I don’t see how defying those laws would be.

    1. This question is weird. Whether or not there’s a God who created the laws of physics, there’s nothing save the supernatural, as far as we know, that can BREAK the laws of physics.

      1. Wait. The wheel of Christian reasoning has, like, 50% of the pegs labeled: Satan. What’s reasonable about that?

    2. Trying to understand your argument. So if you jumped into thin air off the Empire State building and found yourself magically floating back to safety you wouldn’t think that evidence of God?

      1. Unless you count parachutes as magical? I suspect many people identify ‘god’ as the causative agent of their survival, blind to the effect of safety devices, advanced medical care and so on.

        If you look for something hard enough you are likely to find it, whether it exists or not. It’s a cognitive bias, not proof of god.

        1. “Trying to understand your argument.”

          My argument is simply this: how would God’s making something that violates the laws of physics (i.e., miracles) serve as evidence that he created something that follows the laws of physics (i.e., the universe)? This seems to me a non-sequitur.

          “So if you jumped into thin air off the Empire State building and found yourself magically floating back to safety you wouldn’t think that evidence of God?”

          No, I wouldn’t. I’d think there’s a scientific explanation that we haven’t yet discovered. I’m guessing that most people who read this site would think the same.

        2. “I suspect many people identify ‘god’ as the causative agent of their survival, blind to. . . .”

          This reminded me of a wonderful bit from Ricky Gervais’ “After Life,” in which a very obese woman claims that being fat was “the causative agent of her survival.” I could recount it, but here’s a link:

          The whole short series is one of the best takes on the virtues of atheism and Enlightenment values that I’ve come across. Not an atheist myself, but I highly recommend it.

  18. “Seriously, if God wants us to accept Him, why can’t he just come down to Earth and do a few irrefutable miracles that can be witnessed, photographed, and so on?”

    Then the god/deity thing would just be more everyday ‘stuff’, to be studied, prodded, analysed – another part of the cosmos. And the urgent imperative for humans would be to destroy this callous psychopath as quickly as possible.


    1. That shouldn’t be surprising, climate science denialism is strong in the antievolution subculture, part of an opposition to environmentalism generally as being anti-business (going back certainly to Jerry Falwell’s 1970s). That’s how the Heartland Institute’s climate carping meshes with the Heritage Foundation’s privilege-coddling economics and judicial recommendations, with the Discovery Institute gang orbiting that very conservative demographic (before he got into waving Michael Denton’s notions about bacterial flagella, Michael Behe was recommending privatizing Social Security), and in turn with the support base for the Trump Administration. Ideas have consequences, and so do well-heeled activist social networks.

  19. But [Shapiro]’s been moving towards ID creationism for some time, and now he’s clearly bought the whole hog.

    Which raises the question, of course, whether that hog was specially created separate from other species of boar and pig, or whether they’re all part of a “baramin” including others of their kind. 🙂

  20. Michael Behe’s highly successful Darwin’s Black Box followed Johnson’s work.

    Highly successful commercially, yes; a succès d’estime among his colleagues, it quite clearly wasn’t.

  21. “Highly successful commercially, yes”

    So was The da Vinci Code, I believe. 😎

    Slightly more on topic, though I can’t find overall sales figures, here’s the Amazon figures for:
    The Selfish Gene: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,307 in Books
    The God Delusion: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,906 in Books
    Darwin’s Black Box: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,387 in Books

    For what that’s worth…


  22. The fact that ID is Christian dogma dressed in a grubby lab coat can be readily seen when you ask an IDer to explain parasites and disease, or competitive evolutionary arms races in terms if intelligent design.

    The obvious answer SHOULD be to claim there are several competing intelligent designers; instead they invariably resort to ‘The Fall’, so including Christian monotheism and mythology in their supposed alternative scientific explanation.

  23. The problems for religionists are now two-fold.

    First, it is – everything else alike – obvious for anyone that what they claim support their magic does not.

    For instance, I can put Meyer’s list against the known facts:
    – “anthropic fine tuning” (Goldilocks universe): if it exists, it is caused by survival bias.
    – “the origin of the Universe” (not within the universe itself): equivocation; the local universe is caused by an eternal inflation multiverse.
    – ” the origin of life”: phylogenetic tree evidence of half alive universal common ancestor.
    – “complex specified information”: does not exist so far, since no testable definition.
    – “consciousness”: an evolved trait.

    Second, not everything is like when religionists dreamed up ID.

    The facts uncovered since 1998 Wedge Document implies religion is (self)delusion like astrology. Where astrologers has failed horoscope magic creationists have failed intercessory prayer magic and failed “souls/afterlife” magic. And where astrologers appeal to man made star patterns – stars projected from vastly different distances – as magic agencies religionists appeal to man made anthropomorphic magic agency – but the universe is now known to be 100 % mechanistic.

  24. Considering that the vast majority of our universe is inhospitable to life as we know it, the “tuning” of the cosmos seems coarse at best.

    Of course, if the creator also created the beings that inhabit a universe, he can set the parameters of the universe anyway he wanted and simply design the beings to fit that universe. He doesn’t have to make carbon based life forms in every conceivable universe. In other words, the existence of a creator actually makes our universe less likely, since it is only one of an infinite variety this god could have crafted.

  25. The DI has been gradually dropping the pretense of not knowing who the ‘designer’ is for several years now. I haven’t figured out why.
    Either they’ve been emboldened by the large number of public intellectuals who’ve embraced ID and think its now safe to mention God, or they’re concerned that they’re so far behind schedule according to The Wedge and think mentioning God will give them new momentum.

  26. The ID’ers are going to hell. I know that cos I have read the Bible. They have not only denied Him thrice, they have denied Him thricety-thrice. This u-turn now to say “Yes! It is God! Our Intelligent Designer: ‘Tis He!” is too late to save them . . .

  27. This article was extremely uninformative. I was hoping for a logical explanation on why Meyer’s theory is false. Instead, you hardly touched on the argument for ID at all. You spent countless paragraphs ranting about how ID promoters are trying to “slither” their “pseudoscience” into schools, how much you disagree with Shapiro’s politics, and how ridiculous the philosophical idea of God is because He’s invisible, or something. You didn’t mention how it’s pseudoscience. You didn’t break down his argument or make an attempt to explain how it is faulty. You made the vague statement that “physicists don’t accept the cosmological data as evidence for God”, but fail to provide evidence on which scientists and don’t even bother to explain why they don’t accept it. Not helpful at all. Please stop ranting about how much you hate this theory and provide some scientific data.

    1. You didn’t even read it, you jackass! Did you see the links I gave to the rebuttals of Meyer’s arguments, something that would have taken me pages to repeat.

      I guess you’re either too lazy to read or too lay to click on links. Please stop being so lazy and/or willfully ignorant that you can’t even read a post and click on the links.


    2. There’s been reams written on Meyer’s claims over the years. You expect them all to be reprised in every comment about him? As at happens, Meyer’s ID claims fall apart at the primary source level. He has consistently avoided most of the data field, and has failed to conceptualize what his own model entails. For example, what exactly is the “new information” he alleges came on the scene with the phyla appearing in the Cambrian Explosion?

      That Steve is an affable chap I know from personal experience, having jousted with him here in Spokane on several occasions, but that doesn’t leave those accepting his claims off the hook regarding fact checking those claims. Have you done that, seeing whether his coverage of primary sources was accurate, or (more commonly) whether he’s left out relevant information that his vague model can in no way account for (the reptile-mammal transition certainly, but even most of the Cambrian taxa)?

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