Universal Design Intuition & Darwin’s Blind Spot

Douglas Axe[i] recently published a book, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed[ii], in which he attempts to show how science, as well as our own experiences and observations, belie a world that is full of design and evidence of a designer. Though he is vilified by dogmatic Neo-Darwinists and others who cling to that tired model of the origin of life, despite the mounting evidence against it, others have recently acknowledged his contributions to science.[iii]

(I do not mean to suggest that evolution is not science, nor that it is the best science we have on the subject, but evolutionary science has yet to prove “the origin of species” in a definitive way. The origin of life defies evolutionary science, even today. Neither does the reality of evolution discount the involvement of design in the process or a designer (intentionality) behind it. New paradigms are shaking up the Neo-Darwinist model, not necessarily negating the role of evolution in the development of life, but transforming our understanding of it.)

Axe highlights a phenomenon that he calls “universal design intuition”. According to Axe, most pre-school age children around the world and attribute the world they see to a God-like designer. They do it intuitively, even when it is contrary to their own parents’ beliefs.

He isn’t alone in this observation, and it isn’t just the advocates of intelligent design who confirm the phenomenon. This phenomenon has been recognized even by people who decisively negate intelligent design.

For instance, Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and an atheist, says, “By Elementary School age, children start to invoke an ultimate God-like designer to explain the complexity of the world around them, even children brought up by atheists.”[iv] Her analysis shows that the intuition of design is not something instilled by parents; it is a natural inclination in children to attribute life to a God-like designer.

Others who concede a natural inclination to attribute design to the world include Nobel laureate, Francis Crick. A self-described agnostic, leaning toward atheism[v], Frick says, “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed but rather evolved.”[vi] In this statement that implicitly acknowledges an intuition to attribute design to the world, even in adults, and even in people who do science, is an exhortation to the public in general, and to the scientific community specifically, to discount that intuition.

“Move along. There is nothing to see here.”

I am reminded of another agnostic whose theology was admittedly “a simple muddle”[vii] – Charles Darwin. Darwin famously wrestled with the intuition that the world is designed. In his book, On the Origin of Species, Darwin acknowledged design intuition[viii] and “the deep inward conviction and feelings which are experienced by most persons” of the existence of an intelligent God.[ix] He recognized in his own intuition a “firm conviction of God, and of immortality of the soul”.[x]

For Darwin, his rational and intellectual pursuit of scientific truth led him to overcome (or, perhaps, to repress) the awe that triggered the “conviction” of an intelligent cause. They also led him to another ground on which he considered himself to be a theist (at the time) – “the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe….”[xi]

By 1870, when he admitted his theological muddle, 11 years after he wrote the Origin of Species, he could no longer call himself a theist.[xii] Ironically Darwin abandoned theism on the basis of reason, propelled by the conclusion (expressed as a doubt) that “the mind of man, which has … been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, [cannot] be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions [as design intuition].”[xiii]

What do I mean that this conclusion is ironic?

One might wonder why Darwin decided he could trust any of his own conclusions, theological, philosophical, scientific, intuitive or otherwise! If the disconnect isn’t evident, I will expose the gap shortly.

This doubt (conclusion) that discounted the intuitions of his youth in favor of a blind, undirected process he called evolution was built on his ability to reason. Admitting “no practice in abstract reasoning” and acknowledging (yet again) his “inward conviction” that “the Universe is not the result of chance”, Darwin advanced (or retreated) further in the embrace of his “doubt”:

But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?[xiv]

The lingering question, though, that he apparently never thought to ask is this: If we have indeed evolved from lower animals, would anyone trust the reasoning of a monkey’s mind, if there is any reasoning in such a mind?

The question deserves asking: why was Darwin willing to trust his own reasoning ability in light of that “horrible doubt” that caused him to shrink from his convictions? Surely, his reasoning ability and his convictions were both developed from the mind of lower animals – and, therefore, equally suspect! Why trust one over the other?

One writer calls this willingness to trust his intellect while doubting his intuition Darwin’s Blind Spot.[xv]

Darwin propelled the modern scientific world on the trajectory of naturalism fueled by the theory of evolution on which Darwin, and all of the Darwinists and Neo-Darwinists since then, have relied more confidently than the intuition or conviction of an intelligent first cause. Evolution was not only the basis of their doubts in the existence of God; it was the very thing in which they placed their confidence to abandon a conviction of belief in God.

For the same reason that Darwin doubted his intuition, though, a “horrid doubt” remains that they are wrong – not just on the one account, but on both accounts! The very fuel that propelled the world toward naturalism burns up any confidence we might place in our ability to reason!

As Douglas Axe highlights, the universal design intuition persists today in the 21st Century, but evolutionary science continues to be used by people who want to ward off any thought that the world is designed. The dogma (not the science) is that he world is not designed. That dogma is based Darwin’s doubt and, therefore, languishes in the darkness of Darwin’s blind spot.

The point Douglas Axe ultimately makes is that we should trust our intuition (convictions) as much as we trust our intellect and the science that we do. Though we shouldn’t trust either one if there be no God – being nothing but end products of a monkey’s mind – we can trust both our reasoning ability and our intuition if the source of both is an intelligent design.

The one supports the other, or both are suspect on the same basis.

Though certain Neo-Darwinists have doubled down on Darwinian theory, the evolutionary paradigm as an explanation for the origin of life is on the ropes today. [xvi] Criticism is bubbling up within the mainline scientific community, leading one group of scientists to conclude that “Darwinism in its current scientific incarnation has pretty much reached the end of its rope”.[xvii]

It seems that the machinations that have driven the scientific community away from God have led them to a dead end, or at least onto a gravel road that is no longer capable of taking science where it needs to go. It is a difficult decision, indeed, to turn back while the dogged determination and inertia of the human spirit urge us to press on.

Perhaps, the words of Jesus still have some application two millennia after they were first uttered: “[U]nless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”[xviii] – or advance science past the Darwinian blind spot.


[i] Douglas Axe is the director of Biologic Institute. His research uses both experiments and computer simulations to examine the functional and structural constraints on the evolution of proteins and protein systems. After a Caltech PhD he held postdoctoral and research scientist positions at the University of Cambridge, the Cambridge Medical Research Council Centre, and the Babraham Institute in Cambridge. His work and ideas have been featured in many scientific journals, including the Journal of Molecular Biology, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Nature, and in such books as Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyer, Life’s Solution by Simon Conway Morris, and No Free Lunch by William Dembski. (See http://www.biologicinstitute.org/people)

[ii] Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed

[iii] More Scientists Praise Douglas Axe’s Undeniable, by David Klinghoffer, Evolution News, July 18, 2016

[iv] See Jane Evolve: Picture Books Explain Darwin, Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2014

[v] A British molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist, most noted for being a co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953 with James Watson. Crick referred to himself as a humanist and publically called for humanism to replace religion. He also referred to himself as a skeptic and an agnostic with “a strong inclination toward atheism”. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Crick)

[vi] What Mad Pursuit, p. 138 (1990), Francis Crick (See darwinianfundamentalism.blogspot)

[vii] Letter to J. D. Hooker by Charles Darwin July 12, 1870.

[viii] His primary issue with the idea of God seems to focus on the problem of suffering. “This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent first cause seems to me a strong one….” On the Origin of Species, p. 432)

[ix] Id.

[x] Id.

[xi] Id. at p. 433

[xii] “My theology is a simple muddle: I cannot look at the Universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent design, or indeed of design of any kind in the details.” Letter to J. D. Hooker by Charles Darwin July 12, 1870

[xiii] On the Origin of Species, p. 433.

[xiv] Letter to William Graham by Charles Darwin, July 3, 1881.

[xv] Darwin’s Blind Spot, by Gerard M. Verschuuren, published on Strange Notions

[xvi] Against the Ropes with Darwin, by: Regis Nicoll, Published: December 13, 2006, at Breakpoint

[xvii] Why Is Darwinian Evolution Controversial? A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism

[xviii] Matthew 18:3

5 thoughts on “Universal Design Intuition & Darwin’s Blind Spot

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