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Some Basic and Common Mistakes Made by Critics of Intelligent Design: An Overview

By Dr. Douglas Groothuis

In my many years of studying and defending Intelligent Design (ID), I have noticed at least nine common mistakes made by critics. These errors disallow a proper evaluation of ID theories as scientific explanations. Much of the ink spilled in opposition to ID can be erased by noting these fallacies. Most if not all of these mistakes are noted in Stephen Meyer’s stellar defense of ID, called Return of the God Hypothesis (Harper One, 2021).

1.    Critics of ID claim that genuine science is intrinsically naturalistic, and thus ignore the history of science in the West, which was decisively influenced by a Christian worldview. That is, they assume methodological naturalism, which automatically freezes out the design inference.


2.    They dismiss ID arguments because they are offered by religious people. This is the ad hominem fallacy and begs the question, another fallacy.


3.    They place ID explanation in the category of bogus supernaturalism, such as fairies, gnomes, goblins, etc. This is the fallacy of guilt by association. Fairies, gnomes, and goblins explain nothing and there is no evidence of their objective existence.


4.    If a naturalistic explanation is not available (such as for the origin of life on earth or the Cambrian explosion), instead of considering a design explanation, they claim that it is only a matter of time until a naturalistic explanation is found. Give us time, they ask, while not considering the ID explanation before them. This commits the fallacy of begging the question. To those who remember checking, this is the “post-dated check fallacy.” I will have the funds in the future. Trust me. But future funds can purchase nothing, let alone a sufficient explanation.


Francis Schaeffer addressed this “wait and see” attitude to explaining ultimate issues in The God Who is There:

That in the future man will find another reasonable answer [beside the Christian viewpoint.] There are, however, two overwhelming problems to this answer…[T]his could be said about any answer to anything and would bring all thought and science to an end. It must be seen to be an evasion and an especially weak reply if the person using it applies it only to this one question.[i]


5.    They misstate ID theories and then attack a straw man (fallacy).  As I write in Christian Apologetics.


Another objection to Behe is made by Kenneth Miller, who says that individual parts of irreducible structures may be used profitably for other things. This is sometimes called the cooption theory. One part of the flagellum—a cellular pump—is found in an organism outside of the flagellum. Therefore, the flagellum is not irreducibly complex. Its complexity is rather redundant, since one of its parts is used elsewhere. But this objection presents a straw man fallacy. Behe never claimed that each part of an irreducibly complex system must have no other function elsewhere in the living world. Certainly one part of a mousetrap could be used as a blunt object outside of a mousetrap. Moreover, the cellular pump that Miller cites is likely another case of irreducible complexity in itself.[ii]


Further, Lawrence Kraus and Richard Dawkins accuse Stephen Meyer of wrongly stating that natural selection is “random” in the sense of being haphazard. But Meyer meant “random” in the sense of undesigned. There is a mechanical logic to natural selection that is not random; but on naturalistic grounds, the elements that went into natural selection occurring at all (such as the irreducibly informational aspects, which naturalists cannot explain) are undesigned and random in that way. Or as Bertrand Russell put it in a long and elegant sentence in his famous essay, “A Free Man’s Worship.”


Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears;…his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms…[iii]


6.    They claim that if ID explanations are allowed, this will introduce a “divine foot in the door” (Richard Lewontin) which will wreck science (somehow). This is the straw man fallacy, since Stephen Meyer and William Dembski have articulated ID as a bona fide scientific theory.


7.    They make the accusation that ID appeals to “the god of the gaps.” They substitute the “matter of the gaps” assumption (begging the question on naturalism) and deny that ID gives a bona fide explanation based on hard evidence and reliable means of argumentation (usually inference to the best explanation or Bayesian probability considerations). This is the straw man fallacy.


8.    They offer alternatives to ID that end up assuming unexplained information, such as the RNA world and inflationary-string multiverse theory. If so, they have not eliminated the original explanation by naturalistic devices.


9.    They present naturalistic explanations that are full of extraneous explanatory entities, such as the multiverse theory. This violates the principle of simplicity in explanation. As I state in Christian Apologetics:


Eighth, all things being equal, simpler explanations are preferable to unnecessarily complex ones. How this criterion plays out depends on what is being explained. It does not mean that simplest possible explanation is required for any phenomena if that means putting what is explained on a procrustean bed. Christian Smith says that “the principle parsimony [or simplicity] must be balanced out by the principle of ‘sufficient complexity.’ That means that we ought to be willing to theorize with enough complexity to capture the important feature of the real world that we are trying to understand.”38 For example, a materialist may claim that any materialist explanation is better than a theistic one, since materialism is simpler than theism, which includes both God and the material world. But this is simple to the point of being simplistic. For materialism to win the day, it must make a better case than theism for whatever it attempts to explain, given its intrinsic resources and limitations as a worldview. . . .

Criterion 8. Worldviews should not appeal to extraneous entities or be more complex than is required to explain what they propose to establish.[iv]

These nine mistakes are commonly advanced by critics of ID, but there may be other general errors in evaluation. Any fair evaluation of ID should shun these nine mistakes and assess the various ID theories on their own merits.

[i] Schaeffer, Francis A. The God Who Is There (IVP Signature Collection) (p. 138). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[ii] Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (p. 310). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[iv] Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (pp. 50-51). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

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