What Is Behind ID? Just One Premise

I want to show the logic behind why speculating that an intelligent agent created the universe is not an argument from ignorance or the god of the gaps fallacy.  It just turns out that intelligent designers have an additional premise that qualifies it as an argument to the best explanation.  Physicists do the same when they posit an entity to explain observed phenomena.  This does not mean that I believe this hypothesis to be true.  Why is this important then?  Because we will want to be informed when arguing with an ID.  And for those who think that I may be giving credence to Intelligent Designer’s arguments, I would not be threatened by any of this.

Abductive Reasoning

We have only two ways of determining what is true or not, by reasoning or observation.  What about the scientific method?  It obviously involves both reasoning and observation as well as experimentation, hypotheses, verification, and predictions.  There are different types of reasoning that we use when we try to establish something as true or likely to be true, such as deductive and inductive reasoning.  But what if we cannot directly observe something?  If we cannot directly observe something, then we are using abductive reasoning to determine the probability of something being true or not.  Detectives who work a murder case use this type of reasoning as well as archeologists and many others.  But everything is circumstantial because we cannot directly observe what we are hypothesizing.  Here is some abductive reasoning that was used, probably often used, for a suspect that murdered his wife.

  • Observations (Evidence): We notice that the suspect’s house was cleaned meticulously in a possible effort to hide evidence.
  • Expectation (Prediction): If someone was concealing a murder, then we would expect them to attempt to hide the evidence.
  • Conclusion (Hypothesis): There is reason to suspect that this individual murdered his wife.

This evidence of course is neither strong nor conclusive.  But that’s the best we can do with abductive reasoning.  If we had more evidence to corroborate our hypothesis, then it becomes stronger.  To make it even stronger, we can compare it to the explanatory power of other competing hypotheses.  When the best one wins, then we call this enhancement argument to the best explanation. The best hypothesis must be sufficient to cause the phenomena of interest compared to other hypotheses and have causal adequacy.  The phenomenon of interest for the murder is not the evidence of a coverup but what can be inferred from it.  That is, hiding evidence in itself does not cause a murder but from our everyday experiences, we know that people hide things for a reason.

Scientists’ Reasoning

Stephen Meyer gives a few examples of scientists using this type of reasoning before giving his argument.  Here is how Richard Dawkin’s evidence and others would look when formalizing it to fit abductive reasoning.  We should “get” the logic after this.

Richard Dawkins:

  • “Logic: If “blind, pitiless” matter and energy rather than a Mind is the prime reality from which all else originated, then we would expect no evidence of intelligent design in life and the universe, rather only evidence of apparent design”
  • “Data: Life and the universe do not exhibit evidence of actual design, only apparent design.
  • Conclusion: We have reason to believe that life and the universe are the product of blind materialistic forces.


  • Observations (Evidence): There is background radiation and a value of the mass density of the universe.
  • Expectation (Prediction): If there was a beginning, like the big bang, then we would expect to see that evidence.
  • Conclusion (Hypothesis): There is reason to suspect that the big bang started the universe.
  • Competing Hypotheses: In light of this evidence, the steady-state and oscillating-universe models lack causal adequacy.

Charles Darwin:

  • Observations (Evidence): There are homologous structures, transitional fossils, evolution recapitulating itself, etc.
  • Expectation (Prediction):  If life evolved, then we would expect to see evidence of this in the fossil record, embryology, etc.
  • Conclusion (Hypothesis): All life forms came from a common descendent.
  • Competing Hypotheses: God, Lakmarck’s theory, etc.

Intelligent Designers’ Reasoning 1

Intelligent designers are essentially doing, in one limited respect, what Charles Darwin did.  Darwin looked at his everyday experiences and deduced that since artificial selection can rapidly produce changes in a species, then natural selection with random mutation can do much more.  Obviously, natural selection needs time, so this reasoning is convincing considering the millions of years it has to work with.  Meyer says that within our everyday experiences we know that it takes an intelligent agent to make the sophisticated things that we come across, snowflakes aside.  This mode of thought makes up the first premise, and this is why it is not a God of the gaps fallacy.  So far I do not disagree with Meyer.  This still does not mean that an intelligent agent is behind it all.

  • Premise 1: Our everyday uniform experiences teach us that any system that has a function requires design inputs, such as digital code and boundary conditions, from an intelligent agent.  Since this is true, then we would expect to find a universe that requires fine-tuning (boundary conditions) and life forms requiring a digital code (DNA base pairs) to exist and function.
  • Premise 2:  We observe that the world is finely tuned with physical laws, constants, and parameters, and all of life requires digital code in the form of DNA base pairs.
  • Conclusion:  We have reason to think that an intelligent agent acted to design the universe and life forms.

A God of the gaps fallacy would preclude premise one and jump from premise two to the conclusion. Does this additional premise prevent ID from being a God of the gaps fallacy?  In the framework of arguments, it does.  This is why I said the argument is not that bad because it obeys a certain logic.  But for all practical purposes, they are still invoking a designer into the argument which resembles a God of the gaps fallacy in every other respect. Although an intelligent agent could be the cause, we would have to compare this causal hypothesis to others.  It cannot, however, be a theist God, namely the Judeo-Christian version because that worldview is false through and through.  I am obviously not going to debunk Christianity here; others have done it for us.

My purpose is not to critique ID’s argument but to explain it.  What makes this argument strong, according to Meyer, is that it is an argument to the best explanation because it has causal adequacy.  It is only an argument to the best explanation because the competing hypotheses from science have failed to be causally adequate. That is, they fail to be likely candidates for the causes of how the information in DNA formed along with an explanation for why the universe appears to be finely tuned with parameters.  Meyer brings up the point that all of the RNA experiments, which could show the origin of information in DNA, thus far are plagued with their setups requiring input from an intelligent agent, such as artificial conditions, etc.  He also brings up that information, which is what DNA conveys, cannot in principle be described by physics or chemistry.  I would need to hear what biologists say about this.

Since natural laws describe situations in which specific outcomes follow specific conditions by necessity, they do not generate, or describe the generation of, new information. Indeed, to the extent a sequence of symbols or a series of events results from a predictable law-bound process, the information content of the sequence will be limited or effaced by redundancy. Thus, natural laws cannot in principle generate or explain the origin of information, whether specified or otherwise. [1]

Can’t Get Something from Nothing

The argument above dealt with the creation of lifeform and the appearance of the fine-tuning of the universe.  What about the beginning of the universe?  If there was a beginning, then how could something come from nothing?  The problem that science faces is that it defines naturalism as a closed system of cause and effect that prevents the supernatural from intervening.  This was never a problem of course and turns out to be a very real and natural metaphysics.  According to Stephen Meyer, it became a problem when atheists realized that there is more evidence in favor of the universe having a beginning than it just always being there.  Meyer says that there must be a cause for the beginning of the universe, but naturalism is not adequate to explain what it is.

What caused the whole of nature or the physical universe itself to come into existence?  All materialistic theories of the origin of the material universe face a fundamental problem given the evidence we have of a cosmic beginning. Before matter and energy exist, they cannot cause, or be invoked to explain, the origin of the material universe. Instead, positing a materialistic process to explain the origin of matter and energy assumes the existence of the very entities—matter and energy—the origin of which materialists need to explain. No truly materialistic explanation can close this particular causal discontinuity or gap—the gap between either nothing or a preexisting immaterial or mathematical reality, on the one hand, and a material universe, on the other. [1]

Sean Carrol, a professor of natural philosophy who is an atheist, says that “naturalism can offer no cause of the universe, but it may ‘just be'”, that is, require no causal explanation.  But this would violate the scientific assumption that “whatever begins to exist must have a cause.”  I do not pretend to even speculate as to how something can come from nothing.  That is not my aim in the post.  It is to show the logic behind ID’s hypothesis.  There is more to their logic too.  For example, Meyer brings up how the current hypotheses offered by atheists, such as the physicist Laurance Krauss, are contrived because they gerrymander the results.  What this means is that the models that they use to explain the origin of the universe require initial conditions and assumptions in order to work.  In other words, they know what fudge factors are required to get the results they would like.  I haven’t explored Krauss’s theory in depth, but I know how models work and don’t doubt it (3).  Perhaps this is the best science can do right now, which is OK.


1) I am intentionally not including intelligent designers’ reasoning under the science category because they don’t really do science.  Making a hypothesis from an armchair may qualify as abductive reasoning, which science uses, but in every other respect, Intelligent Design is not science and only hinders science.  We also know that their ultimate goal is to sneak a theist God in, namely a Judeo-Christian God.  In other words, I am doing my best to be neutral when analyzing their arguments, but I cannot qualify intelligent design as science.  Stephen Meyer would say that this is because of my bias towards metaphysical naturalism.  And I would partly agree.  To this, I would say, naturalism as a worldview is true and works.  Theism as a worldview, especially the Judeo-Christian version, fails on multiple accounts.  No, I don’t have time for a detailed explanation.  I leave this task to other experts.

2) I always thought of metaphysics to be an abstract philosophical concept with no overlap with science.  But science deals with metaphysical questions all the time.  Metaphysics literally means what is real and deals with questions about “being” and “existence”.  An example of a metaphysical question is if a copper wire conducts an accelerating charge that produces an electromagnetic field, how do we know the field is real?  We use abductive reasoning to say that if it were real, we would expect it to have x, y, and z effects.  Metaphysics may take this further and ask if the EM field qualifies as being “real”.  For our purposes, we can adopt an instrumentalist approach and say that if we can predict its behavior, then it is real.  We will use this fact later on.

3) This does not mean that they are not doing science.  Problems require assumptions to be made and conditions to be set.  We do not even have to be cosmologists to realize that replicating a time period billions of years ago will inevitably require some assumptions to be made.  If they make the model unrealistic, then so be it because they may still provide insight into the nature of the problem.   As more knowledge is gained, then the better our models will be.


[1] Return of the God Hypothesis.  Stephen Meyer.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Meyer apparently skips most steps of working out what we might expect to see in a god-designed and -managed universe.

    If you choose to call that abductive reasoning, you need to tack on a big blinking red asterisk:

    *Applied Selectively and Hypocritically

  2. JM says

    There are lots of ways to formalize the ID argument. I have seen it more like this:
    1: The universe requires a number of finely tuned physical parameters to support life.
    2: Finely tuned parameters require somebody to do the fine tuning.
    Therefore the fine tuner is god.
    In this formulation it is very much a god of the gaps fallacy. This is usually bloated out with a lot of text to obscure how much a god of the gaps fallacy it is.

    The part about getting something from nothing has a different problem. There are two significant flaws in that group of arguments. First, the universe may not have a beginning. Time itself came into existence with the big bang, it may not be meaningful to talk about before the big bang or the start of the big bang. Second, it may not be correct to apply principles that apply to things in the universe to the universe as a whole. The principle that things with a start must have a cause just might not be correct for the universe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.