How Do We Distinguish Between Young Earth Creation, Theistic Science, and Intelligent Design? – Part 3

Intelligent Design

Theistic science calls for Christians to search for signs of God’s intervention in the history of the cosmos, but how?  The scientific program of intelligent design (ID) answers this question.  In reality, ID is not a creation hypothesis, but a scientific method used to discover signs of intelligence in the natural world.  According to William Dembski, an ID theorist, “Intelligent Design is the science that studies signs of intelligence.”[1]  ID is not about studying the source of intelligence, the creator behind the design.  It is about studying the signs or the effects of intelligence.  Dembski explains that “as a theory of biological origins and development, intelligent design’s central claim is that only intelligent causes adequately explain the complex, information-rich structures of biology and that these causes are empirically detectable.   To say intelligent causes are empirically detectable is to say there exist well-defined methods that, based on observable features of the world, can reliably distinguish intelligent causes from undirected natural causes.”[2]  One sign of intelligence that ID attempts to detect is called specified complexity.  An event exhibits “specified complexity if it is contingent and therefore not necessary; if it is complex and therefore not readily repeatable by chance; and if it is specified in the sense of exhibiting an independently given pattern.”[3]

ID differs from young earth creation in that it does not presuppose biblical accounts of creation and it is not a creation hypothesis as such.  ID provides a scientific toolset to creation theorists who want to detect signs of intelligence in nature, but as a scientific tool ID cannot be used to draw conclusions about the source of any intelligence it might discover.  Those conclusions must be left to theology and philosophy.


Theistic science is a philosophy of science that integrates Christian theology and primary agent causation with the modern scientific method.  A person practicing theistic science is free to draw upon all that they know, including propositions of theology, to conduct their investigations into the natural world.  Intelligent design provides mathematical and scientific tools for the theistic scientist to detect signs of intelligent agent causation in the natural world.  ID, as such, cannot identify that agent, nor does it try.  Young earth creation is a creation hypothesis which fits comfortably under the theistic science umbrella, but does not exhaust all possible creation hypotheses that a theistic scientist may want to explore.

[1] William A. Dembski, The Design Revolution (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 33.

[2] Ibid., 34.

[3] Ibid., 35.