Design network, inc.
P.O. Box 14702, Shawnee Mission, Kansas
(913) 268-0852; (913)-268-0852 (fax); IDnet@att.net
IS INTELLIGENT DESIGN A RELIGION?
By Ernest H. Richardson
Is intelligent design a religion? If so, must its presentation
in public schools be prohibited as a violation of the First Amendment's
Clause? To answer these questions, we must define our terms -- "intelligent
design" and "religion."
Intelligent design" is a theory of the origins of life that suggests
that intelligent causes best explain the origin of living systems and their
features. The theory is based on the empirically-testable assumption that
systems which exhibit high-information content are more likely the result
of an intelligent design rather than undirected natural causes. Simply
put in lay terms, living things are too complex to have happened by chance
and there was likely some intelligent cause involved in their origins.
Religion" on the other hand has been variously defined. The U.S. Supreme
Court said in the late 1800's that "the term 'religion' has reference
to one's views of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations
they impose of reverence for his being and character, and of obedience
to his will." Davis v. Beason, 133 U.S. 333, 342 (1890).
A typical dictionary definition usually defines "religion," as
does the American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd ed.), as "[belief
in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator
and governor of the universe; a system grounded in such belief and worship."
And in 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court defined "religion" as "beliefs
which are based upon a power or being, or upon a faith, to which all else
is subordinate or upon which all else is ultimately dependent." United
State v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 176 (1965).
It should be apparent that "intelligent design" does not meet
any of these definitions of "religion." Intelligent design says
nothing about whether a person has or should have a relationship with a
creator (if there is one), and says nothing about whether there are or
should be any obligations or duties owed to a creator (if there is one).
Nor does intelligent design require belief in, reverence for, or worship
of a supernatural power. Intelligent design does not suggest that the intelligent
is a supernatural intelligent cause. Intelligent design simply says nothing
of whether the intelligent cause is a supernatural or non-supernatural
intelligent cause. Furthermore, intelligent design does not suggest that
all else in life is subordinate to it as a theory of origins or is ultimately
dependent on it.
For an even starker contrast between intelligent design and religion,
consider for a moment characteristics typically seen in religions --
which are clearly not seen in intelligent design.
Intelligent design has no liturgy or form of public worship, no clergy
or people ordained for religious service, no observance of religious
holidays, no sacred text, and no churches or other religious institutions.
design, unlike religion, takes no position on the existence of God or
gods, does not require belief in God or gods, takes no position on any
of morality or code of ethics, presents no opinion as to an afterlife,
and holds no opinion on the ultimate meaning of life or the universe.
Additionally, intelligent design does not teach that the universe was
created by God, that the universe was created suddenly out of nothing,
earth's geology can be explained primarily by the occurrence of a world-wide
flood, or that the earth is old or young. For these reasons, it cannot
be said that intelligent design is a religion.
Some however may say that even if intelligent design is not a religion,
it is consistent with religion and cannot be presented in the public
school classroom. That contention is inconsistent with prior decisions
The U.S. Supreme Court has said that the Establishment Clause is not
violated simply because government takes some action or position that
with religion. For if the Establishment Clause were violated by government
actions that were consistent with religion, laws against murder, theft,
and adultery, to name a few, would be found unconstitutional because
they are consistent with the commandments 'thou shalt not kill, steal,
Is intelligent design a religion? Clearly, the answer is "no."
Would the First Amendment's Establishment Clause be violated by the presentation
of intelligent design in the public school classroom? Again, the answer
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I do not claim for credit for all the ideas expressed
in this paper. Some of the material was borrowed from the Legal Guidebook
prepared by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics.