My concern is that almost no intelligent and logical person would argue for a pure naturalism of this world. At the same time, a large portion of these intelligent people would deny "Intelligent Design theory" or Theology as unproven. So what do they suggest instead of the world's designer? Just an empty placeholder: "we don't know what or who"?

"There are good and bad reasons to be skeptical of intelligent design. Perhaps the best reason is that intelligent design has yet to establish itself as a thriving scientific research program. Thus far philosophical, theoretical, and foundational concerns have tended to predominate." https://metanexus.net/intelligent-design-form-natural-theology/

Naturalism in philosophy:

"A theory that relates scientific method to philosophy by affirming that all beings and events in the universe (whatever their inherent character may be) are natural. Consequently, all knowledge of the universe falls within the pale of scientific investigation." https://www.britannica.com/topic/naturalism-philosophy


4 Answers 4


Back in the 17th and 18th centuries science and philosophy were heavily influenced by Deism: the belief that God created the universe and all its natural laws, but never interferes in it, leaving natural laws to operate like so much clockwork. As we moved into and through the 19th century this position became uncomfortable. Science and philosophy began casting shade on what were generally held as 'biblical truths', and advances in technology meant that the impact of these threats to ecclesiastical order spread more quickly, more widely, and more thoroughly. So there was a split:

  • certain religious groups (particularly the fundamentalist movement that was founded in the latter half of the 19th century) rejected science and technology as worldly evils.
  • certain scientists, industrialists, and philosophers rejected religious tenets as archaic and restrictive, and proposed a world that was simply clockwork, without the necessity of any creating or guiding hand.

So yes, many 'intelligent and logical' people argued for a pure naturalism, in which natural laws came into existence as mere properties of matter. In essence, they followed Deist principles to their logical conclusion, which is that God is utterly superfluous: a supposed creator who does absolutely nothing except hang around outside the universe waiting for us to die (with the exception of tossing Jesus into the mix).

Intelligent design is a sort of inverted paean to Deism, with natural law and the ordered nature of the universe being taken as signs of His existence rather than consequences of His existence (almost as though God is embodied in natural law). But it lacks the intellectual or philosophical purity of Deism proper, since the invention of Intelligent Design was clearly born of political opportunism. And honestly, most scientists and philosophers (with some annoyingly vocal exceptions) have given up the dispute over God's existence as irrelevant to their work: God may or may not exist, but either way we have to work with and through natural law. We still haven't resolved the tensions of Deism, but they've become less urgent.

  • "most scientists and philosophers (with some annoyingly vocal exceptions) have given up the dispute over God's existence as irrelevant to their work" - I hope you realize that it does not make sense. If you give up on the interpretation of a "big picture" of our existence, you have to clearly state so. I guess, in most branches of science, you can afford to hide from a "big question". But in philosophy (the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge), your voice will sound caponized if you explicitly ignore the most fundamental question of our existence. Commented May 17 at 18:25
  • Also, if you state that God (or the original designer) has no business with this world since creation time, it also sounds preposterous. Commented May 17 at 18:45
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    @TheMatrixEquation-balance: As I understand Deism, the idea was that God created the universe so that humans could eventually be allowed to exercise unimpeded moral judgement; the universe was explicitly meant to be without divine intervention so that people could act freely. It was a peculiar but interesting way of formulating religion within the heart of the Age of Reason. I don't think Deists rejected the idea that God occasionally intervened (that would have contradicted the bible); they just claimed He took a very hands-off approach Commented May 17 at 21:38
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    @TheMatrixEquation-balance: And within the philosophical community this attitude is fairly strong. Whether a given philosopher believes in God or not, there is a pervading idea that we humans need to figure things out on our own. Commented May 17 at 21:42
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    This might be because despite what the bible or some individuals claim, that's what humanity actually experienced...
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented May 17 at 21:48

If you find some rock in the wild, what's the "opposite" of a person having placed it there? That's an odd question to ask. You can come up with other possible explanations, but those aren't really "opposites", as such.

There are various sequences of natural events that may have led to a rock ending up in a specific place. Maybe a different animal put it there. Maybe it was an alien. Maybe some supernatural being zapped it into existence.

* Technically the opposite would be just that a person didn't place it there, but that doesn't tell you much about how it got there.

Intelligent design is mostly an idea of how life (or specific attributes of living things) came about, although some may use the term more to refer to the creation of the universe more broadly.

Evolution and cosmology (and abiogenesis) explains a lot of what intelligent design tries to attribute to a god (typically of a religion with a whole lot of precluding theological problems).

Evolution, cosmology and abiogenesis aren't "traditional philosophy", but rather that's science. It's based on robust and reliable scientific processes, rather than idle speculation, and those things are supported by a ton of empirical observations and validated predictions.

There are certainly "gaps" in our knowledge of these things, as there are gaps in our knowledge of pretty much anything. That's just a natural result of knowledge gathering.

Beyond that, many theists have shifted what they attribute to god back to before the beginning of what our theories predict (if "before" even makes sense), which is necessarily something we don't know yet. Given real-world constraints, there will always be some beginning of whatever model we try to create of reality (at least if that involves linear time), and theists will just shoehorn God in before that point, as a sort of "gotcha" that doesn't actually contribute anything to increasing our knowledge or understanding of anything.

Sometimes the alternative is indeed "we don't know" (but not nearly as often as theists like to claim, and they often misrepresent the alternatives). But "god of the gaps" is a fallacy: simply asserting "god did it" doesn't really explain anything about how that happened or how we know that happened (or why we think that happened).

I'm not aware of natural explanations for how life came about before we conceived of evolution. But the rough idea of animals descending from other types of animals has been around since ancient Greece. Although it was only with Darwin and beyond where this idea was really concretely laid out, and where we built up supporting evidence and put the puzzle pieces together.

There aren't really other alternatives to evolution or intelligent design that come to mind. I suppose one could say an alternative would be some version of idealism or solipsism, where reality is entirely a mental construct. One could probably find some overlap between intelligent design and different ideas of idealism. But idealism certainly isn't considered to be naturalism.

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    Saying "God did it" is entirely unhelpful. If I was asked about something I did at work and said, "I just did it", I would be fired. Hey, isn't there a book called "Firing God"?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 16 at 23:30
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    @DavidGudeman "I'm talking about published works" - published in creationist journals of dubious quality (or in books, which requires no peer review). What I said reflects the overwhelming consensus of the mainstream scientific community. If I say there's no good evidence that Bigfoot exists, you could similarly say that's "highly disputable" by referencing things "published" in Bigfoot spotting communities. I'm not going to act like accepted scientific fact is not accepted scientific fact, just because some small, fringe, outsider group of scientists disagree.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented May 17 at 1:03
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    @DavidGudeman: Those three concepts are supported by so much evidence that even one topic of each of them will suffice. I'll choose D. melanogaster, which literally evolves in a laboratory; gravitational waves, validating one of Einstein's wackiest predictions; and the RNA world, a practical stepping stone for abiogenesis; respectively.
    – Corbin
    Commented May 17 at 2:59
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    For the curious mind, there are and have always been erudite attempts to discredit Darwin's theory and they can be found here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objections_to_evolution But, such views are now fringe, and overwhelmingly rejected by the orthodoxies. Arguing against evolution is like arguing against vaccines, arguing for a flat earth, or denying climate change.
    – J D
    Commented May 17 at 15:10
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    @DavidGudeman "you have never read one of these works; you just assume that they would be low quality" - incorrect. I'm not simply "assuming" they're low quality. I have personally read some such works, I've watched people read through (and then rebut) plenty more such works, in some cases line-by-line, and I've listened to debates about such topics. I've concluded that such works are low quality because I've seen their quality, first-hand.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented May 19 at 6:36

The TLDR is simple. The opposite of ID is evolution.

My concern is that almost no intelligent and logical person would argue for a pure naturalism of this world.

Actually successful professional philosophers and scientists lean towards atheism and naturalism disproportionate to their portion in society. I take those populations to be a stand-in for the terms intelligent and logical people. Here's a PhilSE post with a response outlining a brief view of statistics. The characterization "almost no intelligent and logical person" is essentially loaded speech, and has no support if you examine the facts. In fact, atheism and naturalism is very popular among the booksmart and logically trained population.

Intelligent Design, particularly as a political movement in the US, is essentially an attempt to declare religion science. The Kitzmiller trial did a good job of establish a simple fact. The ID movement is essentially a marketing campaign to relabel creationism as science while ignoring methodological naturalism. Contemporary sciences do not admit the supernatural in their process or theories, period. There's a some interesting metaphysical notions worth studying in ID, sure. It's a good lesson on how metaphysical subterfuge can be perpetrated by a political agenda against good reasoning.

That brings us to the opposite of ID. That's easy. If life being guided by a supernatural intelligence is the core of ID, then the opposite of that would be life being guided by no supernatural intelligence. The terms for that are natural selection and evolution. Along with quantum theory, relativistic theory, and atomic theory, it is perhaps one of the most successful philosophical and scientific theories in the history of the world. To describe those who reject inserting a God of the Gaps into the theory to buttress faith as unintelligent and illogical amounts to an advertisement that you reject the consensus of an international collection of some of the most brilliant minds the human race has to offer.

  • It doesn't matter who said it, what matters is whether it is the best that we have so far come up with. Bach's music manuscripts sat in a closet for 60 years. It is arguably still the best, even if it was burned unseen.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 16 at 23:39

Intelligent Design theory or ID is the position that various aspects of the universe cannot be explained in terms of pure chance or purely non-teleological forces. ID proponents argue that various aspects of the universe show clear signs of design. There is some debate over whether this is a philosophical or scientific position.

There are a few practices widely recognized as scientific or at least science-adjacent that do acknowledge the possibility of recognizing design. For example, archeologists must be able to distinguish tools (products of design) from just odd-shaped rocks, and the SETI program is based on the assumption that it is possible to recognize a designed signal and distinguish it from natural radio emissions.

On the other hand, we know that there were people in the past who could design stone tools and we know that there is at least one intelligent species that can broadcast designed radio signals, but we have no direct knowledge of anything that is capable of designing the universe. Biological life falls somewhere in between; it is possible we will someday be able to design life ourselves, so the design of life arguably falls into the SETI category. So we should divide ID into two broad categories, cosmological ID and biological ID. Cosmological ID claims that the universe must have been designed. Biological ID only claims that life must have been designed.

In discussing what is the opposite of ID, we have to consider both kinds of ID separately. If the universe was designed, then the designer is something outside the universe, presumably not constrained by space or time, so the designer would be supernatural. This means that the opposite of cosmological ID is naturalism---the position that everything happens naturally, that there is nothing supernatural, no non-abstract entity that is not bound by space and time. Notice that naturalism is not the same as materialism. A naturalist could, for example, be a mind/matter dualist and could be a realist with respect to abstract objects and moral principles. A materialist could not.

The biological aspect of ID does not argue for the supernatural, so the opposite of biological ID is not naturalism. There really isn't a word for the position that all life, from inception till mankind started monkeying with it, arose as pure random chance from natural events. Today, everyone who believes that is a neo-Darwinist of some sort (neo-Darwinism is the position that all life evolved from the beginning based on random mutations and natural selection), but there are other possibilities, and neo-Darwinism arguably doesn't include natural abiogenesis, which is another requirement of the opposite of ID.

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    "archeologists must be able to distinguish tools (products of design) from just odd-shaped rocks" - if a theist wants to say the universe is designed, then everything would be designed, so it would therefore not be possible to distinguish design from non-design, yet you admit that we can distinguish this. This common theist talking point refutes itself, and fairly trivially so, but you just keep repeating it.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented May 16 at 19:46
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    So, creationists weren't happy with the image "creationist" had, so they started calling themselves "intelligent design proponents", and then they weren't happy calling evolution "evolution" (or common descent, if you will, but many creationists don't even know the difference), so they started calling it "Darwinism", to try to paint well-demonstrated scientific fact as instead being about worshipping an individual. But that still didn't wasn't sufficiently poisoning the well for their purposes, so they started calling it "neo-Darwinism".
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented May 16 at 20:02
  • @David Gudeman "If the universe was designed, then the designer is something outside the universe, presumably not constrained by space or time, so the designer would be supernatural." This is a key. If you accept Intelligent Design - you accept it for everything, not just living organisms. And if you accept Intelligent Design, it does not mean you believe in a bearded guy sitting on a cloud. Commented May 16 at 22:55
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    @DavidGudeman You insist on using a term that practically no-one uses (beyond when writing about the history of evolutionary thought) to refer to something you don't agree with. If someone wanted to be perceived as arguing in bad-faith, that's pretty much exactly what they'd do. And "everything would be designed" is only a non-sequitur if you strawman with the least generous interpretation possible.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented May 17 at 0:48
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    @DavidGudeman "which falsified Darwin's own theory" - that's somewhere between an egregious misrepresentation and just a blatant lie. Darwin spoke of natural selection of inheritable variations, which is an idea that still stands strong, and this is accepted even by many young-Earth creationists (even though they reject common descent). He didn't know those variations were due to DNA, because the study of genetics wasn't a thing yet. If you're going to call that "falsification", then words have lost all meaning. At best you can say Lamarckism was falsified (kind of), but Lamarck isn't Darwin.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented May 17 at 0:48

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