The origin of “intelligent design” in the 18th and 19th centuries

A question asked on the group by reader Garamond Lethe led me to do some reading and writing, which I do below the fold.

He asked:

I’m looking for an article that detailed the history of the term “intelligent design” prior to its use by the DI. I have a dim memory of reading such a thing, and as best I can recall it was Barbara Forrest (and it may have been part of her Kitzmiller testimony). The work involved, in part, looking at each google hit to determine the sense in which the phrase was used. Does this ring a bell with anyone?

Well it didn’t (a modern history is here), but often one can find out how ideas have changed if you look at the use and context of a term or phrase over time. Using Google NGrams, I compiled a list of uses from 1766 to 1884. Obviously I could have gone much later, but by then it had settled down.

What I found most interesting is that the phrase was in use early, and had a heyday around the 1830s, when Brougham’s Discourse on Natural Theology was published (1835), although it was clearly in the air. What else happened in the 1830s was the publication of the Bridgewater Treatises (1833 onwards). It is clear that the phrase was held to be equivalent to “intelligent cause”, which appeared in Brougham (where “intelligent design” didn’t).

Some of the passages are clearly based upon acceptance not only of religion, but of the Christian religion. This remains roughly constant until the 20th century. Others take a more philosophical approach (as natural theology was supposed to), allowing that the reader may not be committed to Christian beliefs, but be reasonably able to accept the appearance of design. As always, in the background is Paley’s Natural Theology, upon which so much of the modern ID movement depends. The currency of these arguments is astonishing, given how much science has progressed over this period until now on what were, at the time, intractable problems for naturalism.

For example, in Kant’s Critique of Judgement (1790) he asserts that there will “never be a Newton for a blade of grass”, meaning that no argument could be made that purpose would arise from unpurposive processes. This is a problem in some of our authors. But they still allow that the inference from perceived design is not necessarily compelling (see 1835, the Dublin University Magazine piece). And at least one or two free thinkers are out there: one has to admire J Watson, imprisoned in the 1820s, who nevertheless impassionedly argues that design arguments lead to all manner of social and political evils, and “take advantage of the active or passive assent of credulous, superstitious, visionary, and weak, and of thoughtless and indolent minds, of imposing upon a simple world, creeds, doctrines, and ceremonies, destructive of the peace of the mind, of all the followers of dreamers, visionists, and mystery-mongers; destructive of the harmony of life, and injurious to the interests of all people, not living out of the religious deceptions and impositions which are practised by idle and fraudulent men, upon mankind” and so on…

I think this somewhat undercuts the claim made by the Discovery Institute that the term was invented in its current use in the 1980s by Fred Hoyle. It is clear from these readings, that the design argument was used in the same fashion after natural theological uses fell out of favour. The natural theologians argued from the appearance of design in the world to the properties of the deity. Modern designism argues from the appearance of design in the world to the existence of the deity, and then tries to show that the design is irreducible, in Kant’s sense. As Newman once said,

I have not insisted on the argument from design, because I am writing for the 19th Century, by which, as represented by its philosophers, design is not admitted as proved. And to tell the truth, though I should not wish to preach on the subject, for 40 years I have been unable to see the logical force of the argument myself. I believe in design because I believe in God; not in a God because I see design. [original tracked down here, although I fail to see how the misattribution affects the point made]

The 19th century found the argument from design mostly lacking, but the key term is “mostly”. At the end of the 19th century, William Carpenter, a noted physiologist and zoologist, was still prepared to argue in its favour.

Anyway, it’s an interesting journey. Check the sources out below the fold…


Note that the term “intelligent design” is not found, so far as I can tell, in Reimarus in English.

The Monthly Review or Literary Journal, Vol 34. London: R Griffiths, 1766. Edited by Ralph Griffiths, G. E. Griffiths

[370] [Review of] The principal Truths of natural Religion defended and illustrated, in nine Dissertations: wherein the Objections of Lucretius, Buffon, Maupertuis, Rousseau, La Mettrie, and other ancient and modern followers of Epicurus are considered, and their Doctrines refuted. By H. S. Reimarus. Octavo. 6s. Law.

There are no writings that afford greater pleasure to a well-disposed mind, or that are better calculated to establish and strengthen the principles of genuine piety, than those that illustrate the divine power, wisdom, and goodness, in the works of creation. The marks of these perfections are so numerous, so clear, and so striking to every attentive observer, that it is just matter of wonder, that any who call themselves Philosophers, should exclude active, intelligent design from the universe, and ascribe the whole material world, with its various and astonishing phenomena, to blind chance and necessity. Such, however, there still are, notwithstanding the many excellent performances, wherein the necessary existence of an intelligent being, the cause and origin of the whole frame of nature, is clearly and unanswerably demonstrated.


The Connecticut Evangelical Magazine, Vol 6, No. 1, July 1805. A Missionary Sermon, Rev. Nehemiah Prudden.

[6] The visible heavens and earth, the rain and sunshine, fruitful and propitious seasons, all proclaim intelligent design. And the evidence, that the first cause was intelligent, rises still higher when we contemplate the powers and faculties of the human mind.


Sir Humphrey Davy, Elements of the Chemical Philosophy, Part I, Vol 1, Philadelphia: Bradford and Innskeep, 1812

[1] The object of Chemical Philosophy is to ascertain the causes of all phenomena of this kind, and to discover the laws by which they are governed.

The ends of this branch of knowledge are the applications of natural substances to new uses, for increasing the comforts and enjoyments of man, and the demonstration of the order, harmony, and intelligent design of the system of the earth.


The Republican, Volume 8, No. 1, Vol. 8. London, Friday, July 11, 1823.

[54, letter by J. Watson] TO MR. R CARLILE, DORCHESTER GAOL.

Sir, London, July 1, 1823.

Your, correspondent I.G., in your Republican, No. 24, Vol. 7, June 13, in his observations upon the letters which have passed between you and Mr. Fitton, upon the subject of design in the formation of matter, declares that to him “it appears that every part of creation, or the universe, bespeaks design in its construction.” I will trouble your readers with a few of my ideas in answer to those put forth by I.G.

Until lately the disbelief of an almighty supernatural intelligent power was principally confined to the learned, to collegians, and priests, who by tacit consent kept up the deception of the existence of such a being, “to keep the dull rabble in awe.” Since Mr. Paine’s “Age of Reason” appeared; and since you have taken up the cause of free discussion and advocated the principles of Materialism, the people, I mean the useful people, begin* to be less terrified in exercising their rational powers, in tracing natural causes by their effects, and in combating the delusive dogmas promulgated by priests and visionaries. The effect of this reasoning I expect will be to overthrow a spurious morality, and of establishing in the minds of mankind, a love of moral rectitude and equal justice.

I shall, before I proceed farther, concede to I. G.; that If any single part of matter, or of the universe, animate or inanimate, could not have existed without a designer; every part or all parts, of the stupendous whole required a designer also: but I must request that your readers, will have the goodness to give their attention to seemingly insignificant words: especially to some of the little monosyllables, which are used in the reasonings of controversalists; for they are sometimes most powerful and important auxiliaries; upon them frequently depend the whole force of an argument.

I have, in the last paragraph, just used one of these mighty commanders in the character of If, to decide all the properties and qualifications this little fellow carries about him, might often lead us into all the mazes of the must intricate subjects, that occasion the most knotty and violent disputes of mankind.

“Your if the only peace-maker, much virtue in if.”

I.G. has, in the commencement of his reasoning, made use of a dissyllable, which possesses the virtue of shewing that modesty which usually characterizes the most learned of mankind, in writing or speaking upon subjects beyond the compass of human mind to decide: he says, that to him it appears, that every part of the universe bespeaks design, this is very modest; though I am inclined to believe I.G. is deceiving himself, for some parts certainly evince little of intelligent design, in their composition, but I am willing to concede again to I.G. that many parts of organized matter do appear to bespeak design; in the construction of their component [55] parts; but that is all; they do not prove it: and it can be no more than conjecture or guess-work, that they had an almighty designer, at their primary formation: and though Materialists cannot probably prove to all minds, that no supernatural agent could be employed, in their production, they can go a step beyond their opponents; in scientifically reasoning from the operation of the elements, in shewing the possibility of nature producing by her own inherent properties, a living being.

[167, second letter, July 29, 1823]

Contrary to I.G. who declares, that the movements of the planets in their orbits round the sun, appears to him to be a more striking proof of design than any other thing: from seeming to comprehend-the principles of the-planetary motions more clearly than I can comprehend the existence of an organized being, possessing the properties of intelligent design, coupled with a power equal to the design of propelling mighty and ponderous planets, in their orbits through their wonderous rapid course around the sun; I confess, that the motions of the planets appear to me a more conclusive proof than any other operations of nature, not only that no such designing power does exist, but that none was required to set them in motion; in other words, I can much more readily imagine, that the processes of elementary matter, are equal to the force required to propel the planets forward, and that each planet contains within itself the principles of motion; (but not of a propelling motion) than I can imagine the existence of a supernatural or preternatural, immaterial or material being, possessing the properties of design or will, with power equal to the will of moving or setting in motion, and of keeping in prescribed courses, to endless time, the planetary system; seeing that such power, unaided by other powers to effect such purposes, must of itself be almighty, which in several respects no individual power can be; all cogent necessity prescribes the limits and power of all things; it preserves all things, or limits the duration of all things; it is a law of elementary nature, which the elements must obey; therefore nature cannot annihilate herself, although the processes of the elements are constantly producing mutations, transmutations, and transformations of their component parts: even the God, the idol of visionary minds, with all the attributes assigned to it cannot do all things.

[175] Materialists, from comparison, science, and experience having synthetically arrived at rational conclusions, upon several of the operations of elementary matter, even in some instances without positive proof, or demonstration, they are justified in reasoning onward; and in persevering in their search, by close observation into the primary causes of animal life; but as Theologians have no notion, and can have no notion, of what their supernatural or preternatural almighty designing power is composed; they cannot have any just pretensions in saying: although we own that we can [176] not demonstrate its existence by any thing comparable to it in nature; to any thing within the compass of the human mind to understand; and although the sacred books of the priests of all religions, in the revelations they make of the Almighty Designer, represent the being very differently; nevertheless, you may safely rely upon our assertion, that an almighty intelligent being does exist, and that it possesses a designing controlling power, not only over the operations of nature, but also over the mind, the passions, and the actions of every human being.

Persons of feeble intellects, ignorant, timid, or insolent, may implicitly—assent, that such a being does exist, and contrary to their notions of perfection and goodness, does permit mankind to indulge the most violent passions and to commit acts the most atrocious, cruel, and oppressive towards each other: but no rational person, of a deep reflecting mind, desirous of arriving at the truth, will, in the present advanced state of science, resign his mind so blindly and readily to assertion, without proof or probability, especially in matters where so much inconsistency and contradiction of opinion prevails, amongst the advocates of revelation: and all deep thinking people will be the more cautious in the admission of the existence of supernatural or preternatural intelligent designing essences or agencies, from the experience mankind, or the wiser part of mankind, have acquired, that visionary, deluded and fanatical men, or cunning, designing and fraudulent impostors, have in all ages, taken and do at present take advantage of the active or passive assent of credulous, superstitious, visionary, and weak, and of thoughtless and indolent minds, of imposing upon a simple world, creeds, doctrines, and ceremonies, destructive of the peace of the mind, of all the followers of dreamers, visionists, and mystery-mongers; destructive of the harmony of life, and injurious to the interests of all people, not living out of the religious deceptions and impositions which are practised by idle and fraudulent men, upon mankind; and the enlightened and liberal portion of mankind, from knowing the evil consequences, which have arisen in society in all ages, from the promulgation of false hypothesis, false creeds, and doctrines, knowing the persecuting, cruel, hypocritical and immoral effects, which have been produced from the broaching of error, upon heated and morbid minds knowing the advantages wicked statesmen, kings, ministers, and nobles take of the credulity of mankind; knowing how the belief of supernatural agencies of a God and Devil, cowardices the minds of weak and credulous people; how it disposes them passively to submit to the wrongs and crimes of states and cabinets, and how it indisposes them, to resist oppression, the truly enlightened friends of the people, will be desirous of overcoming their prejudices and superstitions; of forming a phalanx of bold and honest hearted men, equally desirous of improving the condition of all, and the spurious, and puritanic morality, which has ob[177]tained an influence over the minds, and the sanction of many worthy and honest meaning people: and the friends of humanity and justice will be desirous of remoralizing mankind, upon principles congenial to their nature, and promotive of the ease, the comfort, harmony, wisdom, and happiness of society.


Anon. “Miscellaneous Intelligences: Natural History” The Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature and the Arts, Vol 19. London: John Murray, 1825

[370] Zoology, which exhibits the nature and properties of animated beings, their analogies to each other, the wonderful delicacy of their structure, and the fitness of their organs to the peculiar purposes of their existence, must be regarded, not only as an amusing and interesting study, but as a most important branch of Natural Theology, teaching, by the intelligent design and wonderful results of organization, the wisdom and power of the Creator. [Part of a plea for public museums]


American Journal of Science: The First Scientific Journal in the United States: Devoted to the Geological Sciences and to Related Fields, Volume 10, February 1826

General Reflections on Heat, A. X. [?] pp78–93

[88] … the vast collections of Water, which cover so great a part of the globe, furnish another means of regulating the temperature of the earth. So happily does it conduce to this object, that were the art of navigation still unknown, we might fancy that lakes and seas and oceans, were made on purpose to be reservoirs of heat in winter, and fountains of cool breezes in summer. The multiform changes of state which water undergoes, including congelation and liquefaction, evaporation and condensation, are all made subservient to the same end. These operations are the special barriers which Providence has set on the terrestrial part of the globe to check sudden excesses of heat and cold; and few instances of the proofs of intelligent design in the works of creation, among all those happy illustrations which Dr. Paley has collected, ever struck me as more convincing than these.


The Philosophy of a Future State. Thomas Dick. Hartford: H. F. Sumner & Co. 1839 [Written 1827] In The Works of Thomas Dick, LL.D. Four Volumes in One, viz. An Essay on the Improvement of Society: The Philosophy of a Future State: The Philosophy of Religion: The Christian Philosopher: The Connexion of Science and Philosophy with Religion. Hartford: H. F. Sumner & Co. New York: By Robinson, Pratt & Co. 1839.

[73] The Creator himself has laid the foundation of the mathematical sciences. His works consist of globes and spheroids of all different dimensions, and of immense concentric rings revolving with a rapid motion. These globes are carried round different centres, some of them in circles, some in ellipses, and others in long eccentric curves. Being impelled in their courses by different degrees of velocity, their real motions cannot be traced, nor the beautiful simplicity and harmony of the different systems made apparent, without the application of mathematical investigations. To an observer untutored in this science, many of the celestial motions would appear to display inextricable confusion, and lead him to conclude, that the Framer of the universe was deficient in wisdom and intelligent design.


“Internal Light” Anon. The Friend, Vol 4, 1831. Society of Friends.

[148] In the first place, what do Friends generally understand by internal light? Is it any thing else than a living, intelligent, emanation from the Deity, enlightening the: understanding, purifying the heart, regulating the passions and desires, and producing pain and remorse for evil, and peace and complacency for well-doing? It is the Spirit of God communicating a knowledge of his goodness to the soul, and bringing it into a conformity to his own divine nature. That the immortal spirit of man should be capable of becoming a recipient for the Spirit of God, is, in itself, both reasonable and natural. That the Creator, when he gave man a “reasonable soul,” should make him capable of spiritual communion with himself, is consistent both with the wisdom of the Creator, and the nature and condition of man. Without such a capacity, he would be left, like a vessel on the ocean, without helm or compass, a prey to storms, and in utter darkness as to his duty or his destiny. It will be acknowledged by every sound philosopher, that the outward creation, the operations of nature, and the exact adaptation of means to the object to be attained, bespeak an intelligent design in the formation and relations of the different orders in creation.


The Bristol Job, Nott. LXXXIX, Thursday August 22, 1833

[354] Passing from this general view of the subject, to particular instances of intelligent design in the formation of plants, our present purpose will admit of only a few observations, which shall be drawn from some of the commonest objects. The vast field of botanical science, presents numerous and curious proofs of a similar kind.

W. Mullinger Higgins. The Earth: Its Physical Condition and Most Remarkable Phenomena. New York: Harper & Brothers, No 82 Cliff Street. The Family Library (Harper), Volume 78, 1836. Originally published in 1833 as “On The Nature and Advantages of the Study of Physics. Being the substance of an Introductory Lecture, delivered to the Dan of Natural Philosophy, at Guy’s Hospital” in The Imperial Magazine and Monthly Record, Vol III. 1833, pages 307–310)

[13] A thousand individuals may pass over a beautifully varied country, and feel no other emotion than that arising from the influence of the scenery on the feelings. If they should be [14] informed that it owes its present appearance to the violent convulsions which have upheaved the crust of the earth, and that it offers a proof of wise and benevolent design, they will either express their wonder or incredulity. But the geologist estimates the importance of the cause that led to the result he sees. He knows that if the strata which compose the exterior or crust of our earth had remained in the horizontal position in which they were formed, no bed or channel would have been provided for the superficial waters, except those uncertain excavations which its own feeble motion could produce; and that, under these circumstances, the earth would have been an unfit residence for man. And if these causes had been less violent than they were, the repositories of the metals and coals, which are now in some places exposed on the surface, would have been buried beyond the most curious research of man. The geologist, therefore, can hardly fail to esteem this appearance, which excites no devotional feeling in the mind of the multitude, as one of a series of facts proving an intelligent design, and the choice of appropriate agents.

This phenomenon, however, is an instance of provision for the welfare of man, prior to his wants; and was produced by an arrangement of causes calculated to secure a future state of things best suited to sustain the permanence and happiness of animated existence.

John Bird Sumner. A treatise on the records of the creation: and on the moral attributes of the creator; with particular reference to the Jewish history, and to the consistency of the principle of population with the wisdom and goodness of the deity, Volume 1, fifth edition. London: J. Hatchard, 1833

[23] It would be idle to enter upon the refutation [24] of an hypothesis which assumes without a shadow of proof or probability, first, that the universe is composed of space and atoms; secondly, that these atoms, without any assignable cause, being impelled from the right line in which they should naturally have been directed, formed the regular and harmonious order of the world; and thirdly, that the seeds of the plants and animals which adorn and inhabit the earth, sprung up spontaneously among the atoms of which it is composed.* But as the word Chance has been sometimes repeated in modern days as if it were really something more than an unmeaning and unphilosophical term; it will be proper very briefly to show how entirely we must oppose all the deductions of reason and daily experience, if we for a moment remove from our system the operation and agency of intelligent design.

* How much of the same censure is justly applicable to the organic molecules of Buffon, has been observed by Paley, Nat. Theol. chap. 23.


‘Natural Theology’ [Anon]. The Dublin University Magazine, Volume 6, No 31, 1835. Dublin. William Curry, Jun. and Company; Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., London.

[454] Within the entire compass of reasoning there is not an argument of more conclusive force than by which the existence of a first cause can be inferred from the phenomena of nature. It is in the strictest sense inductive, and perhaps the most perfect example to be found of this argument. The systematic combination of distinct parts and materials, the adaptation and mutual adjustment of systems, otherwise wholly distinct, so as to operate together to some common end, as for instance, the eye and light, the ear and sound, the solar system and the whole phenomena of animal and vegetable life: again, the several phenomena and mutual relations between these. Are all instances of that instrumentality which is referred to intelligent design, from the precise analogy which arises from the fact already noticed, that such adaptations and adjustment are universally traced to design so far as we have any knowledge. Lord Brougham, who is particularly eloquent in the statement of the illustrations of the argument, is by no means so fortunate in his method of stating the inference, which he mostly draws in such a manner as partly to conceal the point which he is laboring to establish, namely, that it is a strict induction.

[459] Applying these considerations to the argument from final causes — and admitting its inductive character — it must still appear to be as restricted in its application and degree of assurance, as if we made no such admission. Not to lay too much stress on the reader’s attention; instead of stating this distinction abstractly, we shall state a case: Suppose two pieces of unknown machinery to be found: the first inferences are, that they are both the result of intelligent design; this is the argument from an effect to a cause; and it is the more certain because founded on an analogy without known exception. The next inference is as to the purpose (or final cause), and from the identity of construction it is hastily inferred that the purpose of both is the same. A more intelligent observer, however, discovers by chance, that one of these machines was found in a watchmaker’s work-shop; the other, in that of a person known as the inventor of some other species of automatic machinery. A new inference is immediately suggested. One has discovered a new construction for a timepiece; the other, perhaps of a carriage, or a loom, or perhaps of a chess-playing or a talking machine. Now, of these inferences, it must be observed, that the very first is in no way altered by the comparative uncertainty of the others. It owed its certainty to two facts, the constancy of the induction and its generality; whereas the others wanted both these properties. Such is the difference between the two methods, as exemplified in the same case. But further, there is a higher degree of certainty in favor of the watchmaker’s purpose [460] than that of the projector. The first belongs to a numerous class all similarly occupied; the second is a person sui generis; his purposes are various and unlimited within our knowledge: we know not the full scope of his designs, and have no analogy — the induction fails, not because it is inapplicable in principle, but because, in fact, it cannot be applied. Some other means of investigation must be had recourse to: we must go and ask.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Elizabeth Manning Hawthorne (eds). American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge, Volume 1, Issue 6, May 1835. Boston: The Boston Bewick Company, No. 47, Court Street

[369] The most illiterate may enjoy the walk. But the student of natural history and [370] botany, will derive far greater pleasure. He will be able to detect marks of design and wisdom, which others do not observe. To both, the scene is beautiful and refreshing; but to the latter, it produces more admiration, in the proofs of connexion and contrivance, everywhere visible. Here is no work of blind chance or accident. All bear marks of wise design, and of intelligent design, tending to good.

William Kimbrough Pendleton. “Reformation — No. 5” The Millennial Harbinger: Volume 6. 1 January 1835. Bethany, VA: W.K. Pendleton

[182] A supernatural knowledge of man in the author of the gospel code, is as clearly apparent to him intimately acquainted with the Christian Scriptures, as the eternal power and divinity of the Architect of the universe, is to the eye of the rational student of nature. The evidences of intelligent design, however numerous and striking, every where imprinted on the face of the heavens and earth, do not more irresistibly arrest the attention and command the reverence of the true philosopher, than do the wisdom and benevolence of christian morality, assert the divine mission and unction of the author and founder of the christian faith.


While Lord Brougham’s Discourse seems to have been very influential on the arguments in the 1830s, he does not use the phrase “intelligent design”, but rather “intelligent cause”.

The Quarterly Christian Spectator: Conducted by an Association of Gentlemen —Volume VIII. 1836. Volume VIII Number 1, June, 1836.

[177] Art. I. — Brougham’s Natural Theology.

Review of A Discourse of Natural Theology, showing the nature of the evidence and the advantage of the study. By Henry Lord Brougham, F.R. S., and Member of the National Institute of France. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard. 1835.

[182]Its [Brougham’s book] object is not so much to prove the existence of an intelligent first cause, from the many marks of design in the universe around us, as to show that the study which does this is properly “an inductive science.”

[184] While the whole universe of adaptation and design is thus [185] shown to be the rightful domain of this science, it is important to look at the nature of the argument on which its conclusions rest. We remark, then, that its whole strength lies in the conscious separate agency of our own minds. It is founded entirely on the recognition, that there is something within us, independent of matter, and conscious of its own existence, which we call mind; and thus comparing the marks of design which we see around us with our own menial exercises. The feeling is irresistible, — ‘If I had such a design in view, I should use some such means.’ In other words, the application, so nicely, of such means to such purposes, forces the conviction, that somewhere there exists an independent, intelligent mind, the same in kind as that of which we are in conscious possession; though as much superior to ours, as his designs are the more vast and complicated. The first point, therefore, is, the admission of the separate existence and conscious agency of our own minds; for it is only from this, we can infer the separate existence of other minds. This fundamental principle in the argument from design, has been too much overlooked by the great mass of writers on the subject of natural theology. They not only have taken almost all their examples of design from the material world; but neglected the question of the mind’s separate existence and agency, though this must lie at the basis of all their reasoning. The sceptic, against whom their arguments are directed, is the last to admit, — probably strenuous in denying, — the separate existence and immateriality of his own soul. He does not deny the fact of apparent order, fitness, and adaptation to an end, in the parts of the universe with which he is acquainted; he simply denies, that these facts prove any thing in relation to the existence of an independent intelligence. While he assumes this, the exhibition to him of ten thousand proofs of adaptation and design, has no tendency to produce conviction. The first point to be gained, is the recognition of his own mind as a distinct and separate agent; and then, from the nature of its agency in adapting means to ends, we can press home the argument of the existence of other minds from the same marks of design. Without this, the whole array of argument from all the traces of design in the universe, will make no impression upon the false refuges in which the atheist or the sceptic have intrenched themselves.

[203] Did infinite benevolence awaken these desires only to quench them in endless night, after its dream of “three score years and ten?” — Add the noble qualities of the soul, its mental and its moral furniture, its tender affections, its high aspirings, its glowing imagination, its powers of intellect, and more than all, its moral sense, its capacity to know and love, and serve, and enjoy forever its Maker, — and if from any facts adapted to an end, and showing the traces of an intelligent design, we can infer what that design and end shall be; will there not from these data be at least an equally cogent deduction for man’s immortality? What effect his sin may produce upon him, in the course of righteous retribution, is another question; what his Maker designed him for, is to be read in the original elements of his nature; and in characters deep and large, they hold up before the soul of man its Immortality.

An Impartial Exposition of the Evidences and Doctrines of the Christian Religion: Addressed to the Better Educated Classes of Society. James Haines McCulloh. Baltimore: Armstrong & Berry, 1836

[56] Whether the goodness of the Creator can be discerned in the formation and government of natural things, is to be inquired into as a matter of fact. Is it true? Is it not true? I have, with all honesty of purpose, and in all calmness of judgment, satisfied myself that neither God’s goodness nor providence are manifested by his works, according to any notion that we have of the meaning of the words, and so evidently correct is this opinion, that the very facts of the case have alone sustained atheism from the remotest times of history, down to the present day. The very facts themselves, have been sufficient to establish an absolute disbelief of the existence of a God in the minds of men of the highest order of intellect, in every age of the world, and to overpower the evidence of their senses, as to the system of intelligent design, skill, and purpose, that the construction of the material universe, undeniably presents to our senses. How then can an appeal to God’s works, as evidence of his goodness be sustained when not only such an inference is denied to be correct, but even the very facts of the case are maintained to demonstrate the contrary doctrine.


Rev. James Dixon (ed.) The Works of The Rev. David M’Nichol. London: Thomas Tegg And Son, 73, Cheapside; R. Griffin And Co., Glasgow; T. T. And H. Tegg, Dublin: Also, J. And S, A. Tegg, Sydney And Hobart Town. 1837.

Sermon III

[280] How many events, both good and evil, occur through mistake or accident, without the will or intention of any human being! Are such events, like strays in the fields, supposed to belong to no one? Shall we say that such effects have no intelligent cause? We might, with equal propriety, assert they have no natural cause, unless we could demonstrate, against the principles already stated, that God is not the author of nature’s operations, or that he acts without design.

Or shall we still attribute them to the instrumental cause, working without intention as to such particular consequences? There can be no effect without some intelligent cause. We never say a building is the act of a trowel; yet we know it must be the work of some designing agent who makes use of that instrument. The universe is full of mind. Every motion in the kingdom of nature, whether of clouds, or trees, or planets; [281] as well as every motion, in particular, of animated nature; is the effect of intelligent design and operation. “Is there evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?” “I the Lord create evil.” Nothing comes to pass without his appointment or permission; and when any thing is, according to man’s language, merely permitted, the design of God in the permission is still positive, but “holy, just, and good.”


Alexander Hill Everett. Eighteen Hundred and Twenty: a Poem. Part First. An address delivered before Peithessophian and Philoclean Societies of Rutgers College. New York: Jared W. Bell, 17 Ann Street. 1838

[11] From this chaos of controversy, doubt, confusion, imposture, and error, we turn to the Scriptures. Here, gentlemen, we find ourselves at once in a new atmosphere. The very first sentence removes all difficulty. What do I say? The light breaks upon us before the sentence is finished. The first half-sentence settles at once and forever, the great problem of the universe. In the Beginning God. No metaphysics; no logic; no rhetoric; — no tedious induction from particular facts; no labored demonstration à priori or à posteriori; — no display of learning; no appeal to authority; — but just the plain, simple, naked, unsophisticated truth: In the Beginning God.

With the utterance of this little word, an ocean of light and splendor bursts at once upon the universe, and penetrates its darkest recesses with living beams of hope and joy. Order, harmony, intelligent design for happiest ends, take the place of unintelligible chaos and wild confusion.


Essay upon the question is medical science favourable to scepticism? By James W. Dale, M.D. Of Newcastle, Delaware. Philadelphia:; Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell. 1839

[10] The therapeutical student, who returns laden with precious stores gathered from every clime — of flower, leaf, bark, root, metal, earth — accumulates testimony to the truth that “there is a God.” The anatomist pursuing his investigation of that structure “fearfully and wonderfully made,” announces as the result of his labors, that “there is a God.” The basis of this last declaration is the intelligent design everywhere manifest.

[11] The traveller who visits an Antiparos may delight in tracing resemblances to trees, and pillars, and statues, but never thinks to ask “for what design was this shapeless mass, or that huge stalactite created?” The beaver’s dwelling excites our admiration at the many things which instinct has done so well; but we feel that to inquire, with criticism, “Why such materials were used, why built of such a shape, why this stick is here, that there, would be all out of place.” But entering the dwelling of intelligent man, we feel a right to ask, “Why this width, that height, such form, this arch, that door, yon vault, that spring.” For every thing we feel there should be a design. Why? The builder is intelligent.

Sharon Turner. The sacred history of the world, attempted to be philosophically considered, in a series of letters to a son. Vol. I. New York: Harper & Brothers, 82 Cliff St. 1839.

[38] Letter II.

On the Formation of our Planetary System — The Stars and the Comets.

Mr Dear Boy,

I have preferred to lay before you this review of the sacred history of the world in the form of letters, because it will unavoidably be of that excursive nature which best suits this class of our literary composition. The peculiar events and agency, and the intelligent design that directs and causes them, which distinguish sacred from profane or common history, lead the mind to many considerations and investigations on which it desires to attain every elucidation which patient thought can supply.


Anon. The Christian Observer conducted by members of the Established Church for the year 1840. London: J Hatchard and Son, Picadilly

Lord Brougham on the Vis Medicatrix.

For the Christian Observer.

[533] So decisive are the marks of intelligent design throughout the works of God, that the most sceptical man of science, when he discovers any new organ or remarkable structure in a living creature, nay, in a fossil relic of some unknown animal, never doubts that it was adapted to some useful purpose, and begins speculating upon its probable application; a proof that chance was not the author.


Alden Bradford. Human Learning Favorable to True Religion: But the Transcendental Theory Hostile to the Christian Revelation: an Address Delivered Before the Society of Phi B. K., Bowdoin College, September 2, 1841. Boston: S. G. Simpkins, 1841.

[18] I do not contend that human learning necessarily and invariably leads men to faith in the Gospel; nor that all great philosophers have given their support to the Christian religion. But this fact detracts not at all from the opinion advanced, that human learning has often and usually been the means under divine providence, of defending Christianity, and of preserving it in its purity in the world. It is not strange that some individuals, men of extensive knowledge in the physical sciences, or in profane history, and who were educated by men of infidel principles, or who were wholly indifferent to religion, should not duly estimate the Christian revelation; and should therefore withhold all efforts to support or recommend it in society. A different course is not to be expected of worldly men, or of those whose studies are particularly directed to natural philosophy; not infrequently, however, even among this class of studious men, we find that after careful examination and reflection, after a close attention to cause and effect, to the wonderful though uniform operation of the laws of nature, and the constant and universal evidence of intelligent design in the creation and preservation of the world, they have deliberately adopted the great doctrines of natural religion, which usually conduct the candid mind to a grateful recognition of the Christian revelation.

“B”. “Whewell’s Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences: The second article”. Dublin University Magazine: A Literary and Political Journal, Volume 18, November 1841, 555–572

[569] II. — Perhaps the same school of objectors might similarly question the importance which Mr. Whewell assigns to the inquiry of Causes as distinct from the Laws of phenomena. We know that many critics look coldly upon these ulterior regions of speculation, as darkening with vague and visionary phantoms, the bright serenity of pure inductive evidence. Falsa mittunt insomnia. When the effect can spring from but one cause, as organization from intelligent design, change of direction in bodies from force, the inference of the cause is inevitable, and need not be impressed; where it can be conceived as the result of many indifferently, the real cause can only be the subject of conjecture, and outlies the legitimate province of scientific proof.


James Barr Walker. Philosophy of the plan of salvation, a book for the times, by an American citizen, London: The Religious Tract Society, 1848


Allow the author to say, in closing, that it is his opinion, that, in view of the reasonings and facts presented in the preceding pages, every individual who reads the book intelligently, and who is in possession of a sound and unprejudiced reason, will come to the conclusion, that the religion of the Bible is from God, and Divinely adapted to produce the greatest present and eternal spiritual good of the human family. And if any one should doubt its Divine origin, (which, in view of its adaptations and its effects as herein developed, would involve the absurdity of doubting whether an intelligent design had an intelligent designer,) still, be the origin of the gospel where it may, in heaven, earth, or hell, the demonstration is conclusive, that it is the only religion possible for man, in order to perfect his nature, and restore his lapsed powers to harmony and holiness.


The Congregational Review. Devoted To Theology And Literature. Volume IX. Editors L E. P. Marvin, E. Cutler, J. E. Rankin. Associate Editors: Q. F. Magodn, Grinnell, Iowa. A. L. Chapin, Beloit, Wisconsin. H. M. Storks, Brooklyn, N. Y. Boston: M. H. Sargent. New York: Broughton & Wyman. Philadelphia: Jas. Claxton. Chicago: William Tomlinson & Brother. St. Louis: J. W. Mcintyre. London: Trubner and Co. 1869.

[460] Intelligent purpose in natural objects is one factor of which the theory of development makes nothing. When we see a humming-bird with a bill bent sidewise at the end, and find that the habitat of the bird is a region abounding with deep, bell-shaped flowers, and observe that the bird perforates the base of the flower with its bent bill for food, it does not include all the phenomena thus presented to advance ideas about gem mules, struggles for existence, natural selection, &c. There [461] under the guiding hand of man. He thinks them very great, although, compared with the lines of diversity existing in nature, they are as nothing. Hence, he is inconsistent enough to say, in effect, since intelligent design produces such great changes in this limited sphere of human agency, we can easily see how infinitely greater changes occur in nature without intelligent design. He says, in a loud voice, “animals and plants have very plastic organizations,” and adds, in a whisper, or rather only implies, “the intelligent choice and acts of man use that plasticity to multiply varieties without end.” But, which is the more important of the two factors? Can either be omitted? Yet, the author no sooner passes out of this limited sphere, in which the intelligent design of man is so prominent a factor, than he rules out intelligent design altogether. As it is the chief glory of science to be self-consistent, the least that can be said of such a process is to pronounce it unscientific.

The final objection to the theory is that it is atheistic.

Denying that intelligent purpose is indicated in any of the complicated adjustments in nature, it tends to efface every impression of an acting Deity. Indeed, the question arises, if all these wonderful structures came into existence without God, what purpose can a God subserve? If it be granted that he is not active in these, the atheist has the argument, and he will use it with most decisive effect against all supernaturalism. He will not care for the admission that there may have been a God as the first originator of being. As soon as he secures the point that the only act of Deity is one so inconceivably remote, he has destroyed the belief in God, as a Being having any useful connection with men, and this is just the tendency of this theory.


British Association for the Advancement of Science, Belfast Meeting, August 19, 1874. Inaugural address of the president, John Tyndall, F.R.S., D.C.L. Oxon, LL.D. Cantab., F.C.P.S., Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Royal Institution. The Chemical News, Vol 30, No. 769, 81-93, 1874

[82] The mechanical shock of the atoms being in his [Epicurus’] view the all-sufficient cause of things, he combats the notion that the constitution of Nature has been in any way determined by intelligent design. The interaction of the atoms throughout infinite time rendered all manner of combinations possible. Of these the fit ones persisted, while the unfit ones disappeared. Not after sage deliberation did the atoms station themselves in their right places, nor did they bargain what motions they should assume. From all eternity they have been driven together, and, after trying motions and unions of every kind, they fell at length into the arrangements out of which this system of things has been formed. His grand conception of the atoms falling silently through immeasurable ranges of space and time suggested the nebular hypothesis to Kant, its first propounder, — “If you will apprehend and keep in mind these things, Nature, free at once, and rid of her haughty lords, is seen to do all things spontaneously of herself, without the meddling of the gods.*”

* Monro’s translation. In his criticism of this work (“Contemporary Review,” 1867) Dr. Hayman does not appear to be aware of the really sound and subtile observations on which the reasoning of Lucretius, though erroneous, sometimes rests.


William B Carpenter, The Doctrine of Evolution in its Relations to Theism. An Address delivered at Sion College, May 15th, 1882.


Nature and man: essays scientific and philosophical, by William B. Carpenter with an introductory memoir by J. Estlin Carpenter. New York: D. Appleton,1889.

[404]  … in the so-called laws of organic evolution, I see nothing but the orderly and continuous working-out of the original intelligent design.


The Argument from Design in the Organic World, Reconsidered in its Relation to the Doctrines of Evolution and Natural Selection. [The Modern Review, October, 1884.]


Nature and man: essays scientific and philosophical, by William B. Carpenter with an introductory memoir by J. Estlin Carpenter. New York: D. Appleton,1889.

[413] But the question now before us, — whether the evidences of intelligent design, which theology has hitherto recognized in the structure of organized beings, are or are not any longer tenable, when viewed under the new light thrown upon them by the Darwinian lamp, is one which — though science has much to say upon it — it is beyond the province of science to decide.

[425] … that the eye should be provided with such a mechanism, has always seemed to me a most wonderful evidence of intelligent design; …

[427] In the human eye, then, as in the Walter printing-machine, we find a combination of a number of separate contrivances, each individually of the most elaborate kind, yet having most complete consentaneousness [sic] of action, all tending towards one common end, which is attained with a perfection not theoretically surpassable by our highest science. And the cumulative probability that the eye, like the machine, is the product of “intelligent design,” though not logically demonstrative, has a cogency not inferior to the “moral certainties “on which we are accustomed to rely in the ordinary conduct of our lives.

[430] Further evidence of “intelligent design” is supplied by the history of the development of any one of the highest forms of the eye, such as that of the Chick in ovo.

[435] In one of those most able expositions of the doctrine of the “Origin of Species by Natural Selection,” by which Professor Huxley very early impressed the educated public with the scientific value of the new views which Mr. Darwin had opened out, he remarked that nothing had more strongly impressed him than the fact that they had completely disposed of the old teleological argument; the adaptations in organized structures which had been regarded as evidences of “design” being sufficiently accounted for as results of the “survival of the fittest.” And this view of the case has been so [436] zealously adopted by some of the younger advocates of the doctrine, that they have gone the length of representing the plants and animals which exhibit them, as having made themselves for the purposes which their organization is found to answer, — as if they had the intelligent design which is denied to an universal Creator. When challenged to justify that language, they represent it as merely “figurative;” their intention being only to show that as Natural Selection gives a sufficient account of the adaptiveness, there is no need to seek for any other explanation of it.

22 thoughts on “The origin of “intelligent design” in the 18th and 19th centuries

  1. Looks like the concept of “intelligent design” hasn’t evolved much in the past ~150 years… Interesting summary of belief.


  2. This is an impressive and really excellent compilation of the trajectory of the intelligent design term. But I think you might be overstating the case that the common term implies that the argument has been basically the same for over two centuries. But briefly, though Paley, the assorted Bridgewater authors, later Victorians, and the Discovery Institute crowd have all used the phrase “intelligent design”, what they mean by both intelligence and designer change a lot. And more importantly, they use very different modes of reasoning from nature to these apparently similar conclusions.

    For Paley and the Bridgewaters (though in very different ways) the Designer can be inferred precisely for the reason that the natural world achieves purposes through the unfolding of natural laws (in effect – it’s because science works that we know there’s a designer behind it.) This couldn’t be more different than the DI, especially Behe who argue from the insufficiency of natural law to explain observed phenomena.


  3. I’m not so sure there is that much of a difference. As Elliot Sober pointed out in his book, Evidence and Evolution, Paley’s watch analogy points to two aspects of the mechanism (that Sober calls “usefulness” and “intolerance”) as hallmarks of design. In short, the watch does something useful and if the parts are changed in any way, it will stop being useful in that way. In short, Paley was arguing for irreducible complexity. Paley compares that to the stone. As Sober says, “He introduces … only to brush past it dismissively; perhaps, he says, ‘it had lain there forever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer.'” Paley is willing to grant that natural law can account for the stone but argues it is insufficient to explain the watch or, of course, life, and especially human life. He is arguing from the insufficiency of natural law to explain at least one observed phenomena.


  4. I meant to leave a longer reply but when I try, the “Post Comment” button disappears behind the black banner at the bottom of the page.

    Is that a bug or a feature? 😉


  5. Sober and I have discussed this, after E & E came out – so I don’t know if I’ve managed to convince him of this or not, but Paley’s argument is manifestly not about the origins of the watch. It’s about the inference of purpose even if watches have been eternally self-replicating (see chapter 2). This isn’t the same thing as irreducible complexity as modern ID takes it. On the other hand, when Brougham and Charles Bell (a Bridgewater author) annotate Paley in the 1830s, they point to Buckland’s Bridgewater treatise to show that even the stone’s origins are available to us, and in a lengthy footnote make it seem as if the interesting thing about teh watch is a question of its origins.
    Where the difference matters is, as the blog post here makes clear, in the theological consequences. But it’s because Paley’s sidestepping questions of origins that he’s able to get at the character and properties of his designer, beyond its mere existence. (On the other hand, modern ID refuses to even acknowledge theological implications – lest they be recognized as a religious theory.)


    1. It’s about the inference of purpose even if watches have been eternally self-replicating

      Since you’ve discussed it with Sober and I haven’t (and am no great scholar of 19th C. natural philosophy and/or theology), I’ll accept your point.

      modern ID refuses to even acknowledge theological implications

      Not quite true. They just use semaphore, as in Meyer’s 20th Chapter in Darwin’s Doubt. Sometimes they are more direct, as in Dembski’s statement:

      But in fact, all the design proponents that I know and who are Christians would agree that God is as much active whether acting through nature or over and above nature.

      The main reason we may not be able to draw a direct line between the IDers of today and the people John cites is that the IDers who cobbled ID together (from “creation science,” in turn borrowed from George McCready Price’s Seventh Day Adventism) were probably pretty ignorant of the history and theology of the 19th century … and are much less cogent and honest thinkers.


  6. “the term was invented in its current use in the 1980s by Fred Hoyle.”

    I don’t know this subject but its often interesting to ask the question why the attempt is made to draw a ‘historical horizon’ and make it memorable as a foundation legend and starting point. Memory is highly context sensitive.

    Its a significant ploy from the very start of recorded history, to allow ideological control of past and future (i.e the historical horizon of British history and the legend retrospectively placed within it allows history and prophecy to be one and the same from the word go).


  7. Re: Newman: “… [original tracked down here, although I fail to see how the misattribution affects the point made].” Indeed–in fact, Newman devoted two whole lectures from his ‘Idea of a University’ to the deficiencies of the Design Argument, something the ID guy at UD was (surprisingly?) unaware of….


  8. Hi folks! I’ll pitch in my 2 cents…

    I think it is only mildly interesting trace the conjunction of the two words “intelligent design” through history. It’s not really a “term” for most of its history, it’s just people talking about the Design Argument, and in such discussions they occasionally put together the words “intelligent” and “design”, usually more rarely than a variety of other combinations — “intelligent cause”, “beneficient design”, “creative design”, “designing mind”, or, mostly, just “design” or “Design.”

    The closest Paley gets is things like “intelligence and design” and “intelligent and designing Creator”, and “intelligent, designing author”. Mostly he uses “intelligent Creator” (9 times in the copy I am looking at).

    If you think about it from the perspective of someone who had never heard of the modern ID movement, the phrase “intelligent design” is actually pretty weird. Within the context of the Design Argument, it’s basically a redundant thing to say. The context in which it makes sense is when some particular design seems especially clever, or sometimes when something is planned that usually would be decided de facto — intelligent design of a road network to allow traffic flow, instead of just building roads without any long-term strategy. These senses are what is found in e.g. engineering, and may still be dominant outside of the weird world of creation/evolution.

    The real origin of ID, as a term, is in the 1980s, and I think it was arrived at more by a process of elimination than as a particularly well thought-out positive choice. Anything mentioning “creation” was out for the reasons we all know about, and they were also trying to avoid association with the Design Argument. This basically left “intelligent cause” and “intelligent design”, and they picked the latter for Of Pandas and People. If they’d picked “intelligent cause” instead, people would nowadays be sitting around searching on that phrase in Google N-grams, and telling anachronistic, Whiggish history about it instead. 🙂

    Summary: If I or Wilkins or anyone ends up doing a serious study on this, I would strongly recommend the inclusion of “control terms” in searches, and to look at things like the ratio of “intelligent design” to just “design”. I think there may be one or two pre-Pandas sources 1900s where “intelligent design” is more frequent than “design”, but hundreds where it is not, and IIRC there is no evidence that the modern ID people cited those sources until decades later, when they were trying to pretend ID was about something other than the switcheroo under the pressure of the McLean and Edwards court cases from 1981-1987 (it wasn’t just the final SCOTUS decision, that was just the final in a long series of legal defeats).

    All IMHO. 🙂


    1. PS: People are right that Paley mostly does not rely on the “irreducible complexity” argument. The IC argument is an attempt to rebut the argument that a structure could come about by gradual improvement — i.e., it is specifically an anti-evolution argument.

      That said, there were evolutionary arguments around even in Paley’s time, notably those of Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus, and there is one passage where the IC argument occurs to Paley as a rebuttal to the gradual origin of a complex structure:
      pp. 122-123:

      Reflect how frequently we swallow, how constantly we breathe. In a city feast, for example, what deglutition, what anhelation! yet does this little cartilage, the epiglottis, so effectually interpose its office, so securely guard the entrance of the windpipe, that while morsel after morsel, draught after draught, are coursing one another over it, an accident of a crumb or a drop slipping into this passage — which nevertheless must be opened for the breath every second of time — excites in the whole company not only alarm by its danger, but surprise by its novelty. Not two guests are choked in a century.

      There is no room for pretending that the action of the parts may have gradually formed the epiglottis : I do not mean in the same individual, but in a succession of generations. Not only the action of the parts has no such tendency, but the animal could not live, nor consequently the parts act, either without it or with it in a half-formed state. The species was not to wait for the gradual formation or expansion of a part which was from the first necessary to the life of the individual.

      But, IIRC I’ve never seen anyone, pro- or anti-Behe, even take notice of this passage. Paley makes the argument basically in passing, and immediately moves on with his ubiquitous “biology is neat, therefore Design” schtick.

      Then there is the obvious problem that if you’re going to pick an example of something that is supposed to be supernaturally designed, the epiglottis is a pretty poor choice. Paley’s claim about the low rate of choking is pretty delusional, probably even back then. Everyone knows someone who at least choked temporarily, many people have experienced this themselves, and probably most people have heard some story first or second hand of a choking death, often a child.

      But, Paley’s is the earliest example of this “what good is half a wing/flagellum/whatever” IC argument that I’ve come across. Cuvier fairly famously talked about the correlation of parts and I bet this was a subtle anti-evolution argument, but I don’t know when he started with this, and whether or not he ever made it as explicit as Paley.


      1. I agree that the mere phrase is not significant, but it does help to isolate some shared (or interestingly not-shared) ideas in the use of design arguments. I think Newman had it right when he said faith in God leads to belief in design and not vice versa. In the mechanical age, the inference was inverted, and that leads directly to the view espoused by the Discovery Institute and Johnson, et al.


      2. As far as irreducible complexity, there is a significant history of that well before Paley, briefly outlined in the Wikipedia article.


  9. There’s an ambiguity in teleological arguments. It matters very much if we think of organic bodies as analogous to tools, which are useful to serve the ends of some intellect, or if we think of ’em as beings with their own purposes. A watch is a device that serves to tell the time. A cat isn’t any damn good to anybody but itself. I’m not a Kant scholar, but I always thought that Kant, unlike Paley, was talking about cats and not watches.

    When I was a kid, I read a lot about how the so-called mechanical world view was hostile to religion; but it strikes me that the mechanical outlook is actually very comfortable for theists since they (usually) accept some form of dualism. Machines imply machinists, or at least operators, such as the little guy in the pineal gland. Imagine heaven as the pineal gland of the cosmos and voila!


  10. “In the mechanical age, the inference was inverted…”

    Was the feature I noticed reading some Creationist narratives on Hoyle yesterday.

    Depicted like a wild man of science; his atheist faith “shaken to the core” as he discovers the truth of I.D. A penitential in the wilderness on a path that inevitable leads to redemption.


  11. The problem with the modern hijacking of the term is that “intelligent design” doesn’t mean intelligent design any more. Instead it has become an abbreviation for the hypothesis that intelligent design was involved in the origin of humans. If you talk about an “intelligently designed” toaster these days, people give you funny looks.


    1. “Intelligent Design” today is a “dog whistle”. It serves the pretense of being an intellectual position while speaking to those who find it offensive to be physically related to other animals.


      1. I was impressed by a comment in Osborn’s “From the Greeks to Darwin” (1894, p. 42):

        Anaxagoras (500-428 B.C.) took a further step. According to Plato and Aristotle, this philosopher was the first to attribute adaptations in Nature to Intelligent Design, and was thus the founder of Teleology.


        1. I don’t know the passages in question, but David Sedley argues, quite convincingly in my view, that the founder of teleology and the argument from design in the western tradition was Socrates, as mediated by Plato.

          Sedley, David N. 2007. Creationism and its critics in antiquity, Sather classical lectures. Berkeley, CA; London: University of California Press.


          1. I wonder whether there was a shift in the meaning of “design” correlated with the Industrial Revolution. I can imagine that people began to recognize a distinction between “design” and “manufacture”. In pre-IR days, an artisan like a cobbler would both design and manufacture an object for sale, but when things began to be mass-produced a design would be turned over to the manufacturer to result in a finished product.


  12. I’d be interested in a discussion of material from earlier centuries where the term “physico-theology” was used to represent what was later called “natural theology” and “intelligent design.”


  13. I can imagine that people began to recognize a distinction between “design” and “manufacture”

    “God, the King of Kings, the holy one, blessed be He! stamps every man with Adams signet, yet no one resembles another.”

    Variation in manufacturing processes seems to be also noted in coins at an early stage, which may be related to above.


    1. The rise of skilled artisans was always something of a literary and cultural game changer. How such social mobility was to be regulated and ordered a matter of administrative concern.


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