¿Es el diseño inteligente una teoría científica o religiosa?

Is design intelligent a scientific or a religious theory?

Author: Santiago Collado
Published in: F.J. Soler Gil - M. Alfonseca (coords.), "60 questions on science and faith answered by 26 university professors". Madrid: Stella maris, pp. 128-34.
Date of publication: 2014

Darwin, Creationism, Religion and Intelligent design

Darwinism met with detractors from the very moment it was systematically and extensively proposed in The Origin of Species in 1859. In the second half of the 20th century, some of the criticisms of Darwinism, as a theory that accounts for complexity and order in nature, have sought to adopt a strictly scientific approach . The "Intelligentdesign " (ID) has, since the 1990s, been a voice that has joined the chorus of those, especially from creationism, who seek to discredit Darwinism and its developments.

Creationism defends the need to adjust scientific results to what is said in the Sacred Scripture. The problem is that what is written in sacred texts is interpreted literally. This has led creationists to defend some hypotheses that, like the one that establishes the age of the Earth, have been strongly refuted by science. Creationism, in its many variants, has repeatedly failed in academic and scientific circles. Nevertheless, it retains a large following in the USA today.

ID, on the other hand, presents itself as a strictly scientific alternative and new paradigm for understanding the processes inherent to living beings. Its emergence in the United States has also been accompanied by bitter controversy. Confrontations have even reached the courts, as happened with creationism when it tried to be present in the US system educational and even to displace evolutionary theories. In this case, unlike the creationists, ID is losing the game from the start. The conflict has been echoed in Europe, but to a much lesser extent.

The lack of calm in the debates between opponents and proponents of ID has made it difficult to address the important substantive issues that underlie the confrontation. On one side, design Intelligent is seen as a modern-day, sophisticated variant of creationism, serving the same interests: ID would be religion dressed up as science. This is flatly denied by its defenders, who insist that it does not go beyond the strictly scientific realm, although they have no problem admitting that they agree with creationism at goal to achieve a science that is not materialistic.

What does design Intelligent stand for?

The Intelligent design argues that scientific ways can be found to determine the presence of design in any system, which would be tantamount to claiming that the system was made possible by some intelligence subject . In the words of William Dembski, the movement's most active theorist:

"ID (...) looks for signs of design in the natural world and, as such, is not concerned with the ultimate nature of intelligence. sample that there is an intelligence behind the world, but does not attempt to connect that intelligence to a particular religious doctrine." *(1)

The methodological tool used by the DI to find these signals is the "inference of design". In Dembski's own words:

"The inference of design essentially says that some coincidences are too unlikely to be attributed to chance and must therefore be attributed to a designing intelligence. An example I often use is that of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. If a radio signal from outer space is detected that provides a list of prime numbers (numbers divisible only by themselves and unity), it could naturally be attributed to design. Why? For two reasons: it is complex and therefore not easily reproducible by chance; and it corresponds to an identifiable and independent pattern (in this case a pattern taken from mathematics). The inference of design exploits this coincidence between identifiable independent patterns and an otherwise highly improbable event." *(2)

The above text shows that the methodical field in which Dembski intends to move in order to achieve his objectives is basically mathematical. This notion of inference from design formalises the ideas developed earlier by another of the most influential defenders of ID: the biochemist Michel Behe. Current biochemistry, according to Behe, makes the inference of design possible in the biological realm. He calls the notion that allows him to achieve this "irreducible complexity" (IC).

For Behe, any system with a well-defined function is irreducibly complex when its component parts are perfectly identifiable and are all necessary for the system to fulfil its function: if even one is missing, the system ceases to function.

A typical mousetrap would be a simple example of a system with irreducible complexity: a wooden board, a spring, a pin and a latch where the cheese is put... The example is used by Behe himself. If any of these parts were missing, or only one of them lacked the relevant properties and location, the mousetrap would not be able to fulfil its function of catching mice. It is this property of the system, which requires everything, everything in its place, to work, that makes the system irreducibly complex. It seems reasonable to assert that the formation of systems with this property cannot be explained by gradual, random changes, according to the Darwinian outline : all the intermediate steps necessary to arrive at the final system lack the competitive advantages necessary to fulfil its function of catching the mouse. When you make the trap, you are not testing to see if adding those elements will catch the mouse better, but you have already thought about how to make it work in the first place: you have to design it before you start making it.

Behe states that the determination of irreducible complexity in a system makes it possible to state scientifically that the system has been designed. The next step is the important one. Behe considers it proven that today's biochemistry makes it possible to identify the "elementary" parts (proteins and other biomolecules) of biochemical systems, of which we also know their function. What this means for Behe is that such systems can be examined in the same way as the structure of a mousetrap, i.e. as if they were mechanisms. Therefore, one could determine whether they exhibit irreducible complexity or not. If any of them were irreducibly complex, it would indicate the presence of design. In his 1996 book Darwin's Black Box, Behe examines several biological systems from this perspective, coming to the conclusion that the cilia, the bacterial flagellum or the blood coagulation system, among others, show irreducible complexity.

Behe has refined these ideas in later publications, especially with regard to the determination of irreducible complexity, but still maintains the above. Dembski sees the inference based on irreducible complexity as a particular case of his design inference in the biological domain. The debates between proponents and critics of ID over these ideas have been many, but the positions of the contenders do not seem to have moved: rather, they seem to have become more entrenched over time.

Is it scientific to talk about science? The science of intelligent design .

It does not seem to be possible to answer the question at hand by simply assigning to ID the label of religion or science, as if this were the only possible alternative. If we stick to the texts written by its most important representatives, we have to conclude that ID is not a religion. It is a different matter if some of its members use the arguments of the movement to defend their beliefs. There are also materialists who use scientific arguments to defend materialism. The latter does not make science materialistic, as many ID proponents and many creationists assume. However, to the question of whether intelligent design is science, the answer is not so simple.

The works of Dembski and Behe contain science. Also, at least in Behe's case, they contain good science, so why so much controversy? Some limitations of a theory, or even of a whole discipline, can be tested scientifically. This is what Gödel's theorem does with mathematics. Dembski intends to establish a similar result for science in general, not only for mathematics. The attempt seems legitimate. Its advocates believe they have demonstrated this limitation, at least in biological systems. But, as if that were not enough, they go one step further, maintaining that the claim that there is design in natural systems is the theoretical, scientific answer to that limitation. It is not possible to address all the implications of these claims here, but we can try to summarise one of the central difficulties that these theses present.

I think that the most important problem that DI has is that, from biology or physics, and even more so from mathematics, the notion of design, as it is conceived within the movement: intentional disposition of parts, is methodically unattainable. The methodical leap from improbability to design, called irreducible complexity or specified complexity (another formalisation of IC, proposal by Dembski), is unjustified. Incongruence is incurred, because the probability or improbability of reaching a certain complexity in a structure does not authorise in general to speak of intelligence. This moves on a different methodical plane. Mathematics "does not know" what intelligence is, and even less from the point of view of probability.

In reality, in the inference of design that is made in relation to the artificial, the leap is justified, because we already know that intelligence exists, and we only want to determine whether it has intervened or not. But intelligence is then an a priori, and from that we infer whether something has arisen naturally, accidentally, or has been constructed by man. If we refer to the natural world, intelligence should not be regarded as an a priori. It is not a question of determining whether the natural is artificial, which is the absurd question that could be answered by the proposed method.

To bring intelligence into the process of inference from the outset, a priori, is to engage in a circularity that invalidates the method. To infer design, the existence of intelligence is necessary; but it is intelligence, the design, that is to be inferred. For this method to be valid, intelligence would have to be expressed in mathematical terms, but this is not what ID theorists do. And if they succeeded, it could be said that they would have proved materialism right, instead of expelling it from science.

Proponents of ID justify the use of intelligence as an a priori in the inference of design, claiming that, thanks to biochemistry, we can analyse a biological system in mechanical terms. If this were true, there would be nothing to object to, but it does not seem that this claim is justified; rather, the opposite seems to be the case. A biological system cannot be reduced to a mechanical system, even if its mechanisms can be analysed, and it is very useful to do so. This subject analysis loses sight of precisely what is essential to life.

This methodical incongruity can be explained by the eagerness of ID members to remain in the realm of science. If this were the case, it would be possible to expel materialism from science. But science deals only, and this is no small thing, with transformations of a material character. This does not make science materialistic: science is not materialistic. What is incoherent is to affirm or deny from science what its method does not achieve. It is then that one incurs in materialism, or in an incongruence of the opposite sign, which is, in my opinion, the one presented by ID: they try to expel from a house an occupant who in reality does not live in it. To achieve this, they have no choice but to define house as everything habitable, or to confuse another occupant of the house with the one they are looking for. The design that DI members identify is not properly intelligent, unless they take intelligence from a method other than the one they claim to employ (the house of science is not that big), or confuse what they call design with something that is not: improbability, however sophisticated, is not intelligence.


  • Alfonseca, M., Revista Religión y Cultura, Vol. LIII:240, Jan-Mar. 2007, pp. 137-153.
  • Artigas, M., "design Inteligente", is chapter 8 of Mariano Artigas and Daniel Turbón, Origen del hombre. Ciencia, Filosofía y Religión, Eunsa, Pamplona 2008, pp. 111-122.
  • Collado, S., Teoría del design Inteligente (Intelligent Design), in Fernández Labastida, F. - Mercado, J. A. (editors), Philosophica: Enciclopedia filosófica on line, URL:
  • Collado, S. Overview of discussion creationism-evolutionism in the last hundred years in the USA, yearbook of Church History XVIII/2009, pp. 41-53. URL:


  1. Interview with William Dembski by Eduardo Arroyo and Mario A. López and published in URL:
  2. Ibid.