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 hardline New-Darwinists and others who cling to that tired model of life in spite of mounting evidence against it, others have recently acknowledged his contributions to science.[iii]

In the book and elsewhere, Axe highlights a phenomenon that he calls universal design intuition. According to Axe, pre-school age kids on the whole look at the world and attribute it to a God-like designer.

He isn’t alone in this observation, and it isn’t just the advocates of intelligent design who confirm the phenomenon. It has been recognized even by people who are not in favor of 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, but is a natural inclination in all 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], who says, “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed but rather evolved.”[vi] In this statement is an exhortation to the public and the scientific community alike that implicitly acknowledges an intuition to attribute design to the world, even in adults, and even in people who do science.

I am reminded of another agnostic whose theology was admittedly “a simple muddle”[vii] – Charles Darwin – who openly acknowledged what Axe calls universal design intuition. In his book, On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrestled with the idea of God[viii] and acknowledged “the deep inward conviction and feelings which are experienced by most persons” of the existence of an intelligent God.[ix] He recognized his own feelings and “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 feelings and “conviction” of an intelligent cause, but they also led him to another ground on which he considered himself to be a theist – “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 came to lean away from theism on the basis of reason alone, 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] One might wonder why Darwin decided he could trust any of his own conclusions, theological, philosophical, scientific, intuitive or otherwise!

This doubt (conclusion) that lead him away from the feelings and intuitions of his youth also led him to abandon the intellectual indicators of an intelligent cause. 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]

What of the intellectual conclusions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any intellectual conclusions in such a mind? The question deserves asking: why Darwin was so willing to trust his own intellectual conclusions in light of that “horrible doubt” that caused him to shrink from his convictions? Surely, both his intellectual conclusions and convictions were equally developed from the mind of lower animals (and, therefore, equally tainted).

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

Darwin propelled the modern scientific world off on the trajectory of naturalism on the basis of evolution to which Darwin, and all of the Darwinists and Neo-Darwinists since then, attributed more confidence than the intuition or conviction of an intelligent first cause. Evolution was not only the basis of their doubts in the existence of God, but the very thing in which they placed their confidence to abandon a conviction of belief in God. And, for the same reasons, a “horrid doubt” remains that they were wrong – not just on the one account, but on both accounts!

As Douglas Axe highlights, the universal design intuition persists today in the 21st Century. Neo-Darwinists have gained control of science and the politics and philosophies that are derived from it (or drive it). Those philosophies and politics are dominated by Darwin’s doubt and, by the same token, flawed by the same blind spot.

The point Douglas Axe makes is that we should trust our intuition (convictions) as much as we trust our intellect and the science that we do.

Indeed, Neo-Darwinism 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 of the human spirit and sheer inertia 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


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

  1. Pingback: Can Personal Experience be Proof of God? | Navigating by Faith

  2. Pingback: Questions on Morality and the Materialist | Navigating by Faith

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