While there aren't indisputable (to say the least) arguments supporting the Intelligent Designer thesis, I had never seen (or imagined myself) an argument that could definitively debunk this hypothesis, what locks me to an uncomfortable agnosticism about the point.

Could the marvelous designer, if he wanted to do so, have made the world in a way where its designed origins could never be detected by its rational inhabitants?

Of course he could just write every rational being's life-history in a way that any of them ever uncovers the Truth, but that would be cheating. The question is: Can an universe be designed to be undetectable by free (as in free will), resourceful rational beings?

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    "Could the marvelous designer, if he wanted to do so, have made the world in a way where its designed origins could never be detected by its rational inhabitants?" I don't see a way to disprove that. But it is very much a Russell's Teapot kind of proposition.
    – obelia
    Jan 3 '14 at 23:05
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    "Of course he could just write every rational being's life-history in a way that any of them ever uncovers the Truth, but that would be cheating." I don't see why this would be considered "cheating". Either the omni-being wants to get caught or it doesn't.
    – obelia
    Jan 3 '14 at 23:15
  • What exactly do you mean by "the Intelligent Designer thesis"? It's not clear what these you're referring to. (If you mean that an intelligent designer created all life, then you must suppose an intelligence that is not alive.) Jan 5 '14 at 3:20
  • I meant a thesis that claims that the universe we are locked in was planed and created by some intelligent entity. I don't care who this entity is or how it came to existence. And by "we" I mean rational "free willers".
    – bruno
    Jan 6 '14 at 15:10
  • I suggest reading a contempoary textbook on evolutionary biology. It should showcase the elegant first principles, from which all of modern biology's theoretical basis can be deduced. Evolutionary biology starts out with a few assumptions about the copying fidelity of heritable information, and about the energy costs of the process of replication/reproduction, then a billion years or so pass and then life as we know it slowly appears. Creationism, by comparison, starts out with an all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful thingy, which then does something and then life as we know it happens. Mar 23 '14 at 10:37

It is at least logically possible that the universe be designed in such a way that the designer is undetectable. It's an internally consistent hypothesis, and it's consistent with everything we observe. However, it doesn't follow from that that it's a reasonable thing to believe.

Other more radical hypotheses, like occasionalism are be internally consistent, too. The problems with admitting such beliefs to our storehouse of beliefs often lie not in that they contradict themselves or that they are entirely inconsistent with what we observe. Rather the problems often lie either:

  • in reconciling such hypotheses with our other beliefs. For example, we may believe that mutation is genuinely random in relation to natural selection, and if so, it's hard to square that with genuine design. Or,

  • in trying to determine how to cash out the hypothesis in terms of particulars, and then finding any justification for that whole package. Once you start trying to think about who or what this designer is, you typically find yourself having no grounds for justifying any particular way of cashing it out. If the existence of a hidden designer is consistent with the evidence, it doesn't follow that the claim that a designer exists — or some particular kind of designer exists — is especially plausible or justified. For instance, it might be equally well justified that we are all a feature of the imagination of Descartes's evil demon. In other words, even if you can make some view (designer, or evil demon) consistent with what we observe and understand, that's a very long way from justifying it as a reasonable thing to believe. Of course I don't believe that we're a figment of the imagination of an evil demon, and I don't think it's reasonable to believe that; and yet it's completely consistent with the evidence. And that consistency suggests that epistemologically we shouldn't be over-impressed by a hypothesis not contradicting our other beliefs. I do not feel forced the consistency of my beliefs with the evil demon hypothesis, that is, into agnosticism about evil demons. To reach that point, I would need some significant further epistemic motivation. And in the case of design, that's been lacking.

That is to say: while there can be no definitive counter-evidence, and while there are a number of ways the hypothesis can be fit with our knowledge, it can only be done quite awkwardly. We should take that awkwardness of fit as a strike against the hypothesis. This is how science works more generally: we don't arrive at complete certainties so much as deeply-corroborated sets of coherent beliefs.

But also, we should not understand lack of evidence against something as evidence for it. I look outside, and I'm alarmed that I have no evidence that there's not a hobbit outside my window wearing an invisibility ring. I literally have no evidence that he is not there. But this is not positive motivation for believing that he is there. (If it were, it would also be positive motivation for believing that infinitely many other invisible things are outside my building: invisible orcs, invisible dragons, invisible ironing boards ...)

Then, without some positive motivation for believing something, there is no reason to be agnostic about it. "Agnostic" is explicitly defined in various ways, but I take it you mean that the existence of a designer remains an open question. I would suggest that without positive motivation to believe something, we shouldn't treat them as open questions. They're not closed questions, either, but there we have literally no reason to continue to ask the question. This applies equally to the idea that a designer designed the universe then covered its tracks and to there being a dozen dancing invisible ironing boards outside my window. No evidence suggests they couldn't be there, but by the same token nothing raises the question of whether they are there. Nothing makes it a question worth spending time on any more than whether there are half a dozen invisible ears of corn.

  • The question is not "Should we believe that our specific universe was designed by an entity?". The question is: "Can an universe be designed to be undetectable by free rational inhabitants?"
    – bruno
    Mar 24 '14 at 17:47
  • And the short version of my answer is: of course that is possible, because it's internally consistent and consistent with everything we observe, but it doesn't follow that it's a reasonable thing to believe. Mar 24 '14 at 17:56
  • @bruno, I'll add that to the top to clarify; thanks. Apr 5 '14 at 16:49
  • Thanks, @ChristopherE. But I must say it's a little bit frustrating how only the two first lines in your answer actually address the question. And it's just a "yes, because it's logically consistent".
    – bruno
    Apr 7 '14 at 15:13
  • @bruno, Well, I don't think there's anything more to say about the question, philosophically. What remains after thinking about logical possibility and the relationship between possibility and belief, is physical possibility. And I would suggest that (a) what's physically possible is beyond the scope of a philosophy forum, and beyond my expertise in physical science, but (b) I'm not sure “intelligent designers” are normally supposed to be limited by physical possibility. So what other answer could there be but yes, it's possible, given the vagueness of what an intelligent designer is? Apr 7 '14 at 15:55

The OP writes:

"I had never seen (or imagined myself) an argument that could definitively debunk this hypothesis"

A reasonable argument would be, if there is an Intelligent Designer, did another Intelligent Designer design him? Perhaps there were many Intelligent Designers but the first one evolved naturally.

This reveals a problem with a simplistic Intelligent Designer hypothesis. The simplistic naturalist theory has a small problem too though. While it proposes a theory of life that requires no tinkering from novel agency, there may well be such capable agency. What are the ethics of the Prime Directive?

Spock : [stuck in a volcano] We must maintain the Prime Directive…

James T. Kirk : Nobody knows the rules better than you, Spock, but sometimes exceptions have to be made!

  • It's not relevant how that designer came to existence. The question is about the designer that created our universe. Once we assume it choose not to interfere (to make "miracles") and to give some of its inhabitants free will and rationality, could it still choose the certainty that the "creation" will never be discovered?
    – bruno
    Jan 6 '14 at 15:26
  • Perhaps the ultimate existential Being - as pure ground of possibility - simply let the universe be, as in Fiat Lux, or Fiat Universitas. Jan 6 '14 at 22:04

I find that a useful way of talking about issues like this is to think about creating digital worlds with sentient beings in them—like The Matrix, but without the flesh-and-blood bodies being used as batteries. Suppose that you construct some particle & field laws that are simpler than those of our universe—the world's physics—and then set the digital world running. Suppose that sentient life ultimately evolves. Was it 'designed'?

In a sense, the question seems to reduce to:

  1. A 'construct' has always existed, like the multiverse.
  2. An intelligent being has always existed, like Yahweh.

Could the digital beings you 'designed' know the difference between #1 and #2? I don't think so, unless the intelligent being started communicating. Before any communication, there seems to be no difference. You might claim that thinking #2 wastes brain cycles or causes one to conclude wrong things other than #2, but that seems a difficult argument to maintain for all gods. See my answer to a related question, Epistemology of “Creationism Debate”.

In the absence of other evidence, ought one default to #1, #2, or remain agnostic? That is a difficult question, for there are plenty of theists who seem to do good science; can we really say that they'd do better science without that theistic belief? Not clear! Something you can say with much more confidence is that assuming that the intelligent being is in any way fickle, or that the intelligent being created a world that cannot be further understood ad infinitum, will stunt the increase of human knowledge.


Could the marvelous designer, if he wanted to do so, have made the world in a way where its designed origins could never be detected by its rational inhabitants?

If the designed origins are not detectable then why do you presume that they exit at first place?

An empirical argument follows -

Statement 1 - A mental thought can be considered real (in physical sense) only if it is detectable in the physical world.

Statement 2- The thought that “designed origin exists but is not detectable” is true.

Then only way to reconcile the above statements is to consider

Statement1 is false.


Statement2 is false.

I prefer to stick to the Statement 1 and consider the Statement2 to be false.


First - the evolution of creatures who failed to survive a long time or creatures that died in stupid ways, blame the creature not the god. Second - why do animals suffer death if only man sinned? Third - That the designer died and forgot to leave his word in a recurring format, one that evolved with its people rather than created by the creation and removed confusion without eliminating free will. Fourth - Something of an imperfection to the magnitude that only nature could have created it. Which exists everywhere, provided we have a way to prove the timescale of the events.

Problem - Creationists still debunk deposition rates as evidence for time(we weren't there when the land was made a certain way), Intelligent Design theologists are just moving the goalpost, the fall of man is used to "explain" all pain and suffering, and they say gods word is perfect as it allows free will and interpretation "I came not for peace but for division...so that the house of Satan may fall" God of the gaps fallacy will only be proven a fallacy when directly observable, testable irrefutable evidence that a god doesn't exist is actually found.

It already has "He who believe in me may sayeth to this mountain..." This is contested by "magic is a sin"

Their circular logic is one of incompatibility with evidence. Finally they believe that because we disbelieve we are delusional "god will send strong delusion"

Intelligent design is also disproved by the conservation of energy and mass 0 = 0, E=MC^2, infinity = infinity, That which was will always be just in a different format. this could prove an afterlife of pure energy as when we die our bodies decay but our electromagnetic and radiation(alpha, beta, delta, theta waves) presence will still exist but is EM and RD enough for consciousness? We may never know.

Of a million possibilities in faith, the safest option is a lack of faith..all bases are covered and no one needs to suffer for inconsequential reasons nor does one need to convert to accept that anything is possible, it simply is possible.

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    The question has absolutely nothing to do with gods, sins, after-life or anything like that. It's an epistemological question.
    – bruno
    Mar 18 '14 at 8:53

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