Intelligent Design NOT “God-of-the-Gaps” Argument
It is often alleged that Intelligent Design (ID) theory is just a “God-of-the-gaps” argument and not worth taking seriously. So what is a “God-of-the-gaps” argument? God-of-the-gaps arguments were made in the past by religious people to explain why certain phenomena happened. If someone inquired as to the cause of lightening or earthquakes, they were told that “God caused them.” But as time passed, scientists explained such phenomena through natural causes. Or, at least, that is how the critics present things.
Intelligent Design (ID) theory claims that living things have the marks of design because they are actually designed by (an) intelligent being(s). Critics of ID allege that this is just another “God-of-the-gaps” argument. However, there are at least two reasons why the critics are wrong.
First, ID doesn’t argue for the existence of God per se, just for the existence of an intelligent designer. This being could be (the Christian) God but it could also be some extraterrestrial intelligence. Second, unlike lightning and earthquakes, there is positive evidence for the existence of a designer, not simply a lack of knowledge (or lack of evidence). In many other disciplines, scientists, and other experts, infer design based on the existence of (positive) evidence and not simply a “gap” in knowledge. In these cases, the scientists/experts are clearly not making a “designer-of-the-gaps” argument. And just as these disciplines can legitimately infer design, so there is no reason why similar methods of “design detection” cannot be used in biology. William Dembski (Ph.D. in mathematics, Ph.D. in philosophy) makes this point in the following excerpt.
Whole branches of science presuppose that features of the world can display unequivocal marks of intelligence and thereby clearly signal the activity of an intelligent agent (e.g., anthropology, archeology, and forensic science). Nor need the intelligences inferred in this way necessarily all be human or even earthbound (consider, for instance, NASA’s Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence program [SETI for short] in which certain radio signals from outer space would with full confidence be interpreted as signaling the presence of an extra-terrestrial intelligence). There are reliable criteria for inferring the activity of an intelligent agent.
William A. Dembski, “What Every Theologian Should Know about Creation, Evolution, and Design,” 1996, http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_theologn.htm.