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Argument intended to demonstrate that living organisms were created in more or less their present forms by an intelligent designer. Intelligent design was formulated in the 1990s, primarily in the United States, as an explicit refutation of the Darwinian theory of biological evolution. Building on a version of the argument from design for the existence of God, proponents of intelligent design observed that the functional parts and systems of living organisms are irreducibly complex in the sense that none of their component parts can be removed without causing the whole system to cease functioning. From this premise they inferred that no such system could have come about through the gradual alteration of functioning precursor systems by means of random mutation and natural selection, as the standard evolutionary account maintains; therefore, living organisms must have been created all at once by an intelligent designer. Proponents of intelligent design generally avoided identifying the designer with the God of Christianity or other monotheistic religions, in part because they wished the doctrine to be taught as a legitimate scientific alternative to evolution in public schools in the United States, where the government is constitutionally prohibited from promoting religion. Critics of intelligent design argued that it rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of natural selection, that it ignores the existence of precursor systems in the evolutionary history of numerous organisms, and that it is ultimately untestable and therefore not scientific. See alsocreationism.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on intelligent design, visit Britannica.com.