Intelligent Design Vs Evolution Essay Prompt

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Intelligent Design vs. Evolution

Opening Billboard: Funding for this program is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
Hello, I�m Ben Wattenberg�

In recent decades Charles Darwin�s explanation of evolution through natural selection has been challenged by an alternative theory called Intelligent Design. A growing number of science teachers and school boards are struggling with how to present students with the facts. Even acknowledging the existence of an argument has become controversial. How should students learn the history of life on this planet? Are Christianity and other major religions incompatible with Darwinian evolution? Is there any evidence to support the new theory of intelligent design? Can ID and Darwin find common ground?

To find out, Think Tank is joined this week by Dr. Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute�s Center for Science and Culture and author of Darwinism, Design and Public Education.
�and by Dr. Michael Ruse, Director of the Program in the Philosophy of the History of Science at Florida State University and author of numerous books including Darwinism and Design and Can a Darwinian be a Christian?

The Topic Before the House: Intelligent Design vs. Evolution, Survival of the Fittest?
WATTENBERG: Welcome to Think Tank, gentlemen. Michael Ruse, Steve Meyer. It is a delight to have you. The topic to me is a fascinating one. Let me break precedence here and begin with the younger. Steve Meyer, is intelligent design different from creationism?
STEVE: It is. It�s also different from Darwinian evolution. Maybe I could explain what it is and then the contrast between the two will be clear. Intelligent design is the idea that there are certain features of living systems that are best explained by designing intelligence, rather than an undirected process. That is, by studying nature, you can tell something of the effects that an intelligence has had on nature. Creationism starts from a different premise. Not the biological evidence, but rather, it starts from holy writ from the bible and makes an interpretation about the length of the days in Genesis.
WATTENBERG: But it�s not just the bible. Every religion has this creation myth.
STEVE: Sure. But the theory of intelligent design is an inference from biological data, not a deduction from religious authority. We�re looking at things like the little miniature machines that are being discovered in cells. The rotary engines, the nano technology. The turbines, the sliding clamps, the intricate circuitry that�s being discovered inside cells. And especially important is the libraries of information that are stored in the DNA molecule in the form of a four character digital code. For us this is the basis of the inference to design. Not something that you deduce from scripture. So we�re different from the creationists, but we�re also different, not from people who hold to evolution. We�re not against evolution per se. Because evolution can mean change over time or even common ancestry, which are not meanings of the terms that we dispute. But we do challenge the specifically Darwinian idea that life is the result of a purely undirected process that merely mimics the powers of the designing intelligent so that the appearance of design is an illusion. And classical Darwinism and modern Darwinism both say that things look design but they�re not really, because natural selection produces that appearance. We disagree with that and say that life really is design.
WATTNEBERG: Michael, before you, I assume, rebut that, give us a little bit of your background and later Steve, you could do that also. Where�d you go to school? Where�d you grow up?
MICHAEL: Yes. Well, I�m a historian, philosopher of science, who specializes in Darwin. Obviously, I was born in Darwin�s country; I�m English. But I�ve lived in North America for the last forty something years. And I�ve gone all the way from rather technical philosophy of science in my early years, to a fairly full-blown engagement with creationism, with intelligent design theory and many of these other sorts of issues. I teach now at Florida State
WATTENBERG: Okay, what problem do you have with your young colleague here?
MICHAEL: Well, I think Steve�s a really nice guy. I�ve known Steve for many years. I think he�s a bit of a sweetie, but as Winston Churchill once said, I think pretending that intelligent design theory has nothing to do with religion is what Churchill called, what was it, �a terminologically inexactitude.� In other words, it�s a great big fib. I agree with him completely that old fashioned creationism -- and old fashioned creationism is only thirty or forty years old -- but that I agree with him. I think there�s a difference between creationism and intelligent design theory. I think...
WATTENBERG: Now wait a minute. You say thirty or forty years old. William Jennings (Bryan?) in the scopes trial; that goes back eighty years.
MICHAEL: Actually, I�m glad you asked that question. Because I�ve got an answer to it.
WATTENBERG: That�s what I get the big bucks for.
MICHAEL: Right. In fact, people like William Jennings Bryan for instance, him in particular did not believe that the earth was that young. They certainly did not believe that the earth was six thousand years old. When William Jennings Bryan was asked by Clarence Darrow on the witness stand about the six days of creation, what Bryan said is, �in the eyes of the Lord, a thousand years honors a day.� He said, �as far as I�m concerned, that�s not the issue.� He said, �If you want to believe that it�s a short time,� he said, �I�ve got no problem with that, but it�s not my position.� Only since the second world war that we�ve really started to get in a major way, this young earth creationism. This six thousand years. Which, of course, as people like Ron Numbers have pointed out, is in fact, a Seventh Day Adventists belief, which does in fact, go back to the nineteenth century Seventh Day Adventists were very keen on the six days being literal days because the Sabbath also had to be a twenty-four-hour day.
WATTENBERG: Yeah, but you can define a day as a lot of things.
MICHAEL: You can, but if you wanted to find it...
STEVE: You understand, Ben, that we have no problem with the ancient chronology of the earth...(Unintelligeble) Creationism is not our position.
MICHAEL: I appreciate that. But what I�m saying is that basically the creationism that you and I, Ben, would�ve grown up with � I mean Steve�s a bit young for it �- but the creationism that we grew up with dates back to 1961 in a book called Genesis Flood by a couple of people, Henry Morris, a scientist, and John Whitcomb, a bible scholar, where they argue that the earth is, in fact, six thousand years old, and it was six days of creation, and of course, the massive flood.
MICHAEL: What I�m saying is I agree with Steve completely that intelligent design theory which goes back I think the last eighties, 1980s, and certainly...
STEVE: Actually, earlier than that.
MICHAEL: Well, certainly -� well I think it goes back to Plato of course, cause I don�t think you�re saying anything new, but certainly as we know it, I think certainly was started by Philip Johnson in a big way with his book Darwin on Trial in 1991. And certainly that was the thing which got the movement going.
So, I agree with Steve that there are differences. Nevertheless, I would want to say, for both creationism and intelligent design theory, there�s a deeply, deeply, antiscientific, anti naturalistic attitude which ultimately goes back to the bible being read more literally than traditional Christians would read it.
STEVE: Let me respond to that�
WATTENBERG: Steve, give me your word on your background�
STEVE: Yeah yeah My background is actually relevant to what Michael said.
WATTENBERG: �and then I�ve got a little riff that I want to do.
STEVE: Sure. Sure. My background is actually relevant to what Michael said. Deeply antiscientific. I started out in the field of geophysics. I was doing digital signal processing.
WATTENBERG: Whatever that means.
STEVE: It�s a science. Looking at information in the field of seismology. And I went to a conference on the origin of life. I was in my mid-twenties and it was in the early eighties and there were three scientists there that were arguing the digital information that�s encoded in DNA is evidence of a prior intelligence. And they were suggesting that the classical argument from design that goes all the way back to Plato and Aristotle could be resuscitated on the basis of modern scientific discoveries. I was fascinated with that. I spent -� I didn�t come out of the Christian sub-culture that Michael was referring to. I spent my college years in existential despair reading Niche and it was a little put-on perhaps, but it was. So encountered this idea and it was really intrigued with it. And I ended up going back to graduate school in England in the same field as Michael. Philosophy of science. And I--
WATTENBERG: What school?
STEVE: Cambridge University. And wanted �-
WATTNEBERG: Good tickets you guys have?
STEVE: We both have the benefit of a proper (unintelligible.)
In any case, I had a question, which was, can this intuition that information in DNA, can that idea that information in DNA points to a prior intelligent cause, can that be made into a rigorous scientific argument? And I started to study the history of scientists who are reasoning about the past. And I went to look at the works of Darwin and Lial the great geologist. And I found that they had a very sensible methodological principle that they developed in order to study the past which was that when you�re trying to reconstruct what happened in the past you shouldn�t infer causes that are exotic, the effects of which we�ve never seen. That instead, you should rely on known causes, causes that are known to produce the effects in question. And so I asked myself a question; what is the known cause of digital information? Lial had a famous phrase. He said we should be looking for �presently acting causes.� What�s the presently acting cause? Of The origin of information. Well in our experience, whether that�s hieroglyphic text or software, or a section of written text, it�s always intelligence. And so what occurred to me was that the methodological principal that had guided Darwin and Lial and the great founders of geology and evolution of biology actually underscored a new way of making an argument for design. And I think that it is a very scientific argument and I�m very pro-science. We just have come to a different conclusion about this central issue of whether life is appear as designed or is really designed.
WATTENBERG: Let me see if I can get this right what I think. All people who believe in intelligent design may or may not be creationists. But all people who believe in intelligent design are not creationists. (Freud) believed in an intelligent design, Einstein believed in an intelligent design, and Charles Darwin believed in intelligent design. He had an idea as to how the world works. And uhh�
MICHAEL: I hate to interrupt our host right there. I mean, at one level what you�re saying is right. At another level it�s just simply not right. I mean, we know that Darwin did believe in God, we know that Darwin believed in God right through the writing of the origin of species in 1859. He believed in a God who was an unmoved mover. Technically (unintelligible.) By the end of his life, Darwin was probably an agnostic. I think...
STEVE: He confessed to being hopelessly muddled.
WATTENBERG: I, in my wisdom, think that the only the seriously intelligent position is agnosticism. And anyone who claims to know how the world works, I don�t believe frankly. I mean, are you a...
STEVE: I�m a theist. I believe there is a God. But I agree with you. I think you come to these things through a chain of reasoning and reflection. Especially when you�re starting with the analysis of scientific evidence. Dogmatism befits anyone who�s thinking about these big questions. For us the inference to design is an inference. And it�s a justified inference because of what we know about the cause and effect structure of the world. Namely that it always takes an intelligence to produce information. And we find the information in the cell therefore we think it�s the best explanation of that evidence that intelligence played a role. But given that that�s a scientific conclusion based on an analysis of data, you have to remain open to the evidence changing or different interpretations.
MICHAEL: But Steve, what is this intelligence?
STEVE: There�s two aspects of this; you can�t tell from the science alone the identity of the designer. I�d be like having a painting that wasn�t signed or a section of poetry that didn�t have the author�s name at the bottom. You can tell from the characteristic signature of intelligence, namely the presence of information, that some mind played a role. But we can�t tell from the science, the identity. I for other reasons am a theist. I think that there are -- when you supplement the design argument from biology with design arguments from physics and cosmology and also look at other considerations like the moral sensibilities of humans and our ability to know and understand the world around us, I think there�s a good case to be made philosophically for theism. But that�s a second order reflection or inference that I would make beyond what I can know scientifically.
MICHAEL: But I don�t think you�re quite right to say if a painting is unsigned we can�t say anything. I mean, �cause obviously a good art historian can look at the painting and maybe say, it�s not signed but I think it�s thirteenth century school of whatever.
STEVE: Sure. Sure.
MICHAEL: Or it�s not signed but I think this is impressionist. It could be Renoir but I�m inclined to think it�s not. Now, you�re looking at the world and I take it that you�re at least saying things like, I don�t think that this was a naturalistic designer, I really don�t think that this was a grad student on Andromeda running experiments here on earth to get his PhD.
STEVE: Correct. We�re looking at a mind, not a material process. I think when we look at the intricacy of the information processing system itself...
WATTENBERG: Can I just interrupt here for a minute? If you had to say it in a sentence or two, each of you, age has its privileges here, with what do you disagree with Steve about and vice versa? Let�s just try to narrow this down, because it�s a little confusing.
MICHAEL: I think he�s not appealing to scientific ideas. I think he�s appealing to religious ideas for all that he�s saying that this is not religiously driven, I think that it is. But also, and I trust we�ll get into this, I think it�s also part of a general social cultural agenda which I would, in fact, link with the creationists.
STEVE: I always like it when Michael puts me on the couch like that. This has become a fashionable way of avoiding our argumentists to impute to us some agenda or dishonest motive. But you still have to explain the origin of the digital code that�s in DNA. You still have to explain the origins of these machines. And for us the key scientific issue is the issue that Darwin himself posed which is, is the appearance of design in biology real, or merely apparent? Is designing biology an illusion produced by a natural mechanism, namely natural selection that can mimic the powers of a designing intelligence, or is that appearance of design, which all biologists recognize the product of actually intelligence? A mind, not a material process? I think that�s the essence of the scientific and philosophical debate. We all have agendas. You can�t refute a guy by pointing out that he has a point of view, or by pointing out that an idea may have some implications that you don�t favor. It may well be that if you accept that there is a design and a designer that favors a theistic world view over against a materialistic world view. It may well be that if you hold to Darwinian view, that that favors a more materialistic philosophical picture. But those are implications of more primary scientific questions. So I don�t say, as Michael said before, this debate has nothing to do with religion or philosophy. Rather I would say that the important questions �- the key is the distinction between the evidence and the implications.
WATTENBERG: Are you a practicing Christian?
STEVE: I am a practicing Christian.
WATTERNBERG: You are not?
MICHAEL: I�m not. I was brought up as a Quaker but like you, I�m an agnostic. As you said, I�m not an atheist.
WATTENBERG: I�m an agnostic with a powerful believer in some prime mover which is in ethical. That�s where I come out of...
MICHAEL: Well, I�m not that much of an �- I�m not that close.
WATTERNBERG: I mean, who created God, where does the universe end? I mean, what�s it all about?
STEVE: Ben, if I could just real briefly -� I think the key to this is making a distinction between the evidence and the implications. Intelligent design as a theory is based on certain key evidences. Look at our papers. All of our arguments are based on the evidence. The implications of the theory -� that�s another discussion. And there may well be larger implications that are favorable to some kind of belief, whether it be Christian, Jewish, or some kind of theistic belief. But that�s an implication and not the basis of the theory. You can�t critique our theory simply by saying, �well, it has an implication that I don�t like,� or find unsavory. Any more than I could critique Michael or Richard Dawkins or the Darwinists by saying, well, Richard Dawkins has said that Darwinism makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. It would be improper for me to say well, Darwinism is wrong because Dawkins thinks it supports atheism, and atheism is bad. That�s
WATTENBERG: Dawkins says he believes in atheists.
STEVE: He does. And he thinks Darwinism supports it.
WATTENBERG: How he knows this, I don�t know.
MICHAEL: Can I just interrupt just for one moment? First of all, I don�t think your motives are dishonest. I think you know me well enough now to know that I don�t think that in dealing with you people at the Discovery Institute or indeed with the people at the Institute for Creation Research that I�m dealing with a bunch of crooks. Because I don�t think you are. I think you�re profoundly mistaken, I think you are often more religious than you let on, I think that you do try strategies to get around the separation of church and state, I think all of those things. But I think that you are deeply sincerely, if misguided evangelical Christians. So that is very much where I come from, and that�s where I feel at least we can meet there. Now let�s get back to the science.
STEVE: You�re damning us with some extravagant...
MICHAEL: No! No! If I was saying you�re nutcases or loonies, then I might be! But I�m not!
STEVE: Correct. But we�re not doing a lot of things. We�re not trying to get around the separation of church and state. We�re a bunch of people who are fascinated with the scientific evidence. And the big questions that derive from them. They go back to the Greeks, Plato, and Aristotle. They were taken up in the middle ages by Aquinas and Pnemonities (ph?) They were with us in Darwin�s time. They�re with us today. Is the universe the produce of design and purpose, or is it the result of an undirected process, purposeless universe? That�s a big important question that science is now addressing. It�s a fascinating thing. And I just fail to see any scandal in that.
WATTENBERG: The title of Darwin�s seminal work as I understand it as I recall it is, A Theory - and I know theory is a funny word- A Theory of the Descent of Man and Human Evolution, something like that. Is that right?
MICHAEL: It�s a selection in relation to sex.
WATTENBERG: So, he was honest enough to say it�s a theory. And we have this great debate in the United States, I doubt that it exists in Canada, about what we should teach. And the alternative, intelligent design people say, let�s teach what people are arguing about. People all over this country and the world are saying this. There�s this, there�s that, there�s the other thing. Value free. Here�s what Steve believes, here�s what Michael believes, here�s what Ben believes. As a civil libertarian, which I know you are one, what objection -� if it�s taught neutrally, you know...
MICHAEL: I have absolutely no objection in this. In fact, I would welcome the teaching of intelligent design in courses on comparative religion. I think one of the big problems we�ve got in American high schools is that kids are not taught about religion. And I think in this day and age, when Islam is such a worry, threat, I think it�s criminal that young people are not being taught about what it�s like. So on that level, I would want Christianity taught, all kinds, including intelligent design. I don�t think it�s appropriate to teach it in biology classes. Because some people believe something sincerely, does not mean that it should be brought into class, nor is it a civil liberties issue. I don�t want, let us say, I don�t want Christian Science taught in medical schools. I want the teachers to know about Christian Science, or rather the students to know about it, but I don�t want them to be taught it as something which is on the exam just like modern medicine. And it�s the same with intelligent design.
WATTENBERG: That sounds reasonable.
STEVE: Well, Michael and I disagree, this is mainly a definitional issue in the end. He doesn�t want to categorize the design hypothesis as a scientific hypothesis. And yet, part of Darwinism is the attempt to explain the appearance of design. Darwinism says the appearance of design is illusory; intelligent design says it�s real. You have two competing hypotheses trying to explain the same piece of evidence. How is one scientific and the other religious? They�re competing explanations for the same thing. The reason it�s appropriate to discuss intelligent design is that it is an explanation for biology. Now, Ben, I know you have a policy audience for Think Tank. I might just take a minute, just explain what our thinking on this is.
WATTENBERG: We have a very unique audience. Go ahead.
STEVE: The Discovery Institute, which is the institutional home of many of the scholars who are advancing the theory, is not actually advocating that we require students to learn about the theory of intelligent design. Our position right now is that it would be perfectly legitimate and appropriate for students simply to learn Darwinian theory, and to learn the counter arguments against it. The critiques.
WATTENBERG: But, Michael�s point seems reasonable that you teach that in comparative philosophy, in comparative religion, not necessarily biology.
STEVE: Except that these arguments are in biological journals. There�s a tremendous amount of literature. Darwin had -� you were talking about the word theory �- Darwin had a more important word that he used in the origin. Talked about the origin of species being one long argument. And when I was in my doctoral studies in Britain, I had a tutor...
STEVE: Cambridge. He said, �beware the sound of one hand clapping.� And in biology like in every other field, any time you have an argument, there is a counter argument. And the discovery that I made was...
WATTENBERG: And that�s how we advance.
STEVE: That�s how science advances. And Michael has the idea that science is this pristine realm of endeavor that does not involve argumentation or differences of interpretation. And therefore, when you have a fundamental difference, then it must be philosophy or religion that should be sequestered off to the side. But scientists, like everyone else, argue about how to interpret things. And if we deprive students of those arguments, we�re depriving them of a scientific education.
WATTENBERG: Does it really matter in which class it�s taught? Whether it�s taught in comparative religion, or whether it�s taught in biology? Just so long as students are exposed to the fact that there is an argument?
STEVE: In the end, no. Because, more fundamentally, I don�t think it matters what you call it. I think we�re hung up on these science, philosophy, religion. These are categories of human thought. What we�re interested in is how do you explain the complexity that we see in life? And we think that design is the best explanation. If Michael wants to classify that as a philosophy hypothesis, then I would say that our philosophical hypothesis provides a better explanation than his currently popular Darwinian scientific hypothesis. What you call the inference or the hypothesis is not as important as whether or not it�s true.
WATTENBERG: Ok, on that note, we�ll have to end it there for now. Stephen Meyer, Michael Ruse, thanks for joining us on Think Tank. And thank YOU. Please remember to join us for a future episode when we will continue our discussion about Evolution and Intelligent Design. Also, remember to send us your comments via email, we think it makes our show better. And now you can visit our blog to join in the discussions behind the show. For Think Tank I�m Ben Wattenberg.
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Intelligent Design versus Evolution

Nathan Aviezer, Ph.D.*

Author information ►Copyright and License information ►

Copyright : © 2010 Nathan Aviezer.

This is an open-access article. All its content, except where otherwise noted, is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Rambam Maimonides Med J. 2010 Jul; 1(1): e0007.

Published online 2010 Jul 2. doi:  10.5041/RMMJ.10007


Intelligent Design (ID) burst onto the scene in 1996, with the publication of Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe. Since then, there has been a plethora of articles written about ID, both pro and con. However, most of the articles critical of ID deal with peripheral issues, such as whether ID is just another form of creationism or whether ID qualifies as science or whether ID should be taught in public schools. It is our view that the central issue is whether the basic claim of ID is correct. Our goal is fourfold: (I) to show that most of the proposed refutations of ID are unconvincing and/or incorrect, (II) to describe the single fundamental error of ID, (III) to discuss the historic tradition surrounding the ID controversy, showing that ID is an example of a “god-of-the-gaps” argument, and (IV) to place the ID controversy in the larger context of proposed proofs for the existence of God, with the emphasis on Jewish tradition.

Keywords: intelligent design, evolution, irreducible complexity, science, religion


The concept of Intelligent Design (ID) was proposed in 1996 by biochemist Michael Behe in his book, Darwin’s Black Box, the Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. Behe claimed to have discovered an ironclad proof for the existence of a supernatural being, whom he called the “Intelligent Designer.” His studies of the living cell led Behe to conclude that Darwinian evolution cannot explain many biochemical reactions that take place in the cell; only ID can. Although Behe studiously refrained from identifying the Intelligent Designer, the widespread understanding is that the Intelligent Designer is God.

Behe’s proposed proof that the cell could not have formed through Darwinian evolution, generated enormous interest (reported in Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, New York Times, Commentary, National Review and many other periodicals).

Michael Behe is a creationist’s dream come true. Unlike previous religious “scientists” who attacked evolution, Behe is a Professor of Biochemistry at a respected university, a research scientist who does experiments, is awarded grants and publishes papers in international science journals. Moreover, his book is extremely well written, cleverly argued, and shows his obvious expertise in biochemistry. Indeed, Behe’s book is the most sophisticated attack on evolution to appear in recent years. It has revived the hopes of the creationists – here is a professional biochemist claiming that the Darwinists are all wrong about evolution.

The present article focuses on various aspects of Intelligent Design. What exactly has Behe claimed and why is this claim wrong? What is the history of ID and what can we learn from this history? What did the critics say and what should they have said? What important implications would follow if ID were indeed correct?


Some issues that are irrelevant to Behe’s claim have, unfortunately, occupied the attention of many of those involved in the ID debate. It does not matter whether ID is or is not science; it does not matter whether ID is or is not creationism; it does not matter whether or not ID should be taught in the public schools. The only question that is important is whether or not the claim of ID is correct.

The scientific world was immediately up in arms against Behe’s book. He was ridiculed for claiming1 that his discovery is “so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science”, rivaling “those of Newton, Einstein, Lavoisier, Schroedinger, and Pasteur.” Many scientists wrote that one should dismiss out of hand the claim of ID because Behe invoked a supernatural being to explain an important part of the physical world.

Much less effort was spent in examining whether Behe’s claim is correct. For example, philosopher of science Michael Ruse2 recently published an essay discussing ID. His opening sentence is the following: “We need to answer two questions: What is ID, and is it science?” However, I believe that what we really need to answer is whether the claim of ID is correct.

If ID were correct, then Behe would be perfectly justified in asserting that ID is the greatest challenge imaginable, and not just to evolution, but to science itself. ID would show that the central assumption of science for hundreds of years was wrong! Since the time of Newton, the enterprise of science has been based on the assumption that the laws of nature are sufficient to explain all physical phenomena, without the need to invoke supernatural beings. If this assumption were proven to be incorrect, this would indeed be “one of the greatest achievements in the history of science,” rivaling “the achievements of Newton, Einstein,” and the others. Behe did not exaggerate in the slightest regarding the significance of his claim. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to establish whether or not the claim of ID is correct.


One of the most unfortunate features of the widespread criticism of ID is the persistent name-calling to which ID has been subjected. ID has repeatedly been called a creationist idea. The purpose of this terminology is clear. The creationists refuse to accept even well-established science if it contradicts their understanding of the literal meaning of the words of Genesis. Therefore, referring to ID as a creationist doctrine immediately labels ID as standing in opposition to science. By this name-calling device, the critics of ID have already won the battle in the minds of the public without having to deal with the real issue of whether or not the claim of ID is correct.

For example, philosopher and historian of science Robert Pennock edited a volume about ID, entitled “Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics.” The very title of the book characterizes ID as a type of creationism. The expression “intelligent design creationism” is repeated so often that it merited an acronym (IDC). Pennock3 describes ID as follows: “The last decade of the millennium saw the arrival of a new player in the creation/evolution debate – the intelligent design movement.”

The essays in Pennock’s book continue this sorry tradition. In her very first paragraph, philosopher Barbara Forrest4 informs the reader that: “Intelligent design theory is the most recent – and most dangerous – manifestation of creationism.”

One wonders just what could be “dangerous” about the ID claim regarding the origin of the living cell. It is quite ironic that the same charge – dangerous – that is here being hurled against ID, has also been used by creationists against evolution. Creationists point out that the Nazis used the Darwinian concept of “survival of the fittest” to justify their mass murder of millions of “less fit” people, including Jews, gypsies, and Slavs. Therefore, creationists claim, accepting Darwinism is dangerous because it can lead to Nazism. And now we are told that also ID is dangerous!

Probably the most blatant example of name-calling in this volume is the essay by philosopher Philip Kitcher,5 bearing the sarcastic title “Born-Again Creationism.” This essay is literally riddled with snide, derogatory remarks and with errors in his calculation of probabilities, but that is not my concern here.

Sometimes a different type of name-calling is used. Behe is also accused of invoking the “argument from design,” a thousand-year-old “proof” for the existence of God that was refuted long ago. For example, evolutionary biologist Kenneth Miller6 starts his discussion of Behe’s book as follows: “The heart and soul of Behe’s treatise against evolution is neither new nor novel. It is the ‘argument from design,’ the oldest and best rhetorical weapon against evolution… Behe has dusted off the argument from design, spiffed it up with the terminology of modern biochemistry, and then applied it to the proteins and macromolecular machines that run the living cell.”

What is the “argument from design”? First, note that the “argument from design” has no connection whatsoever with “Intelligent Design,” except for sharing the word “design” in their title. Also, note that the word “argument” does not denote disagreement; it is an old English word for “proof.” The “argument from design” is a proposed proof for the existence of God based on the complexity of the world. The argument claims that complex structures that carry out specialized tasks never form all by themselves; they always have a maker. Consider a watch, wrote British theologian William Paley in 1803. In the same way that a watch proves the existence of a watchmaker, so goes the argument, the extreme complexity of the universe proves the existence of its Maker.

We now know that this “proof” is wrong. In all fields of science, we observe extremely complex structures that carry out specialized tasks (complex molecules, intricate crystals, vertex structure of type II superconductors, fractal symmetry, etc.) that form all by themselves, given the raw materials and suitable temperatures. Therefore, it is sufficient for Miller to assert that Behe bases his claim on the argument from design, and the reader is already convinced that Behe is wrong.

Anyone whose knowledge of Behe’s thesis comes from Miller’s book, would be quite astonished to learn that Behe explicitly rejects the argument from design. Behe emphasizes that it is not complexity that is the basis for his claims about ID. Rather, it is a particular type of complexity which he calls “irreducible complexity.” Behe categorically agrees that extremely complex structures can evolve gradually according to the standard Darwinian mechanism for evolution, but not when irreducible complexity is involved. Moreover, a system can be quite simple in the sense implied by the argument from design, and still be irreducibly complex in the sense that Behe means.


When Behe speaks of irreducible complexity (IC), what does he mean? How does IC differ from the usual forms of complexity? What is the basis for his claim that IC cannot be explained by the standard Darwinian evolutionary theory and that only ID can account for the IC that is found in the living cell?

Darwinian evolution works by the chance appearance of a favorable mutation in the genetic makeup of an animal. The favorable mutation enhances the animal’s chances for survival by making the animal a bit stronger, faster, or less susceptible to disease, etc. Therefore, the animal with the favorable mutation will probably live to reproduce the next generation, and this mutation will become incorporated into the species gene pool. The accumulation of many favorable mutations over many generations brings about large changes in the animal, eventually leading to an entirely new species.

The key point is that according to Darwinism, only those mutations that enhance the animal’s chances for survival become incorporated into the gene pool. It is unlikely that a mutation that provides no survival advantage will be passed on to the next generation.

Behe asserts that the gradual accumulation of favorable mutations cannot explain the development of many vital biochemical mechanisms. Among the various examples cited by Behe is the mechanism for blood clotting. A large number of chemical reactions are involved in blood clotting, and – here is the crucial point – if even one of these reactions does not occur, the blood will not clot. Therefore, claims Behe, the mechanism for blood clotting could not have evolved gradually through a series of mutations, with each mutation providing an additional survival advantage to the animal. Each such mutation would, by itself, be useless. All the mutations have to be present to be of any use to the animal because every one of the reactions involved in blood clotting must occur or the blood will not clot.

The mechanism for blood clotting is called “irreducible” because it cannot be reduced to a series of steps with each step affording an additional survival advantage. Rather, the complete blood-clotting mechanism had to appear in the species gene pool all at once. According to Behe, this implies design – “Intelligent Design.”

It is important to note that even a relatively simple system, consisting of only two parts, can be an irreducibly complex system, if both parts are necessary for the system to function. Behe discusses the mousetrap as a classic example of an IC system. There is clearly nothing very complex about a mousetrap. This example serves to confirm that Behe’s assertion that ID has nothing at all to do with the argument from design.


Some of the proposed refutations of ID are rather unconvincing. Consider the following refutation (which has many adherents, just look in Google), proposed by biologist Robert Dorit7:

“Many of the proteins of the eye lens, for example, began their careers doing something completely different and unrelated to vision. Evolution is a creative scavenger, taking what is available and putting it to new use. The correct metaphor for the Darwinian process is not that of a First World engineer, but that of a Third World auto mechanic who will get your car running again, but only if the parts already lying around can be used for the repair” (emphasis added).

There is a very important implication in the italicized words. What if the necessary parts were not already lying around? Dorit’s argument implies that it would then be impossible to produce the corresponding IC system by Darwinian evolution. This would be an enormous limitation to the evolutionary process.

Evolutionary biologist H. Allen Orr8 dismisses the above proposed refutation of ID: “We might think that some of the parts of an irreducibly complex system evolved step by step for some other purpose and were then recruited wholesale to a new function [which is precisely what Dorit proposed]. But this is unlikely. You may as well hope that half your car’s transmission will suddenly help out in the airbag department. Such things might happen very, very rarely, but they surely do not offer a general solution to irreducible complexity.”


Orr then shows how an IC system can indeed evolve through a gradual Darwinian process, without having to assume that the “necessary parts were already lying about,” ready to be scavenged to fabricate the IC system. That is, an IC system can be built up gradually by adding parts in a way that each part offers an additional advantage, even though the final system is IC.

Consider an IC system consisting of several parts, and assume that each part is produced through a genetic mutation. Although this is a simplification of how genes work, this description is quite sufficient for our purposes.

In the distant past, the system may have consisted of only one part, say part A. The system worked, although not too well. A genetic mutation then produced part B, which led to a somewhat improved system, consisting of A plus B. This improved system is not IC, because it will function even without part B. A second genetic mutation then transformed A into A*, which led to a further small improvement of the system. However – and this is the crucial point – A* will not work unless B is present. Therefore, the present system, consisting of A* plus B, is IC because both A* and B are necessary for the system to function.

We have thus shown how an IC system can be produced by means of gradual evolution, with each mutation leading to a small improvement in the system, although the final system (A* plus B) will not function at all unless both its parts are present. Therefore, we are done. The claim of ID – that this is impossible – has been refuted.

Let’s continue. A third genetic mutation produces part C, which leads to a further small improvement. This system is not IC, because it will function even without part C. A fourth mutation then transforms B into B*, yielding yet another small improvement. However, B* will not work unless C is present. Therefore, the improved system (consisting of A* plus B* plus C) is IC because all three parts are necessary for the system to function. Nevertheless, this IC system was produced by a series of gradual improvements, in the best tradition of Darwinian evolution.

This process can be continued to gradually produce a ten-part IC system, consisting of A* plus B* plus C* plus D* plus E* plus F* plus G* plus H* plus I* plus J*. And there was no need “to use parts that are already lying around.”

A very important feature of this procedure concerns its irreversibility. After the system has been formed, all we see is the final product. We have no way of knowing in what order the ten parts were formed, or what were the intermediate parts (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I and J). Once the scaffolding has been removed, there is no way to determine how the IC building was constructed. But, in contradiction to the claim of ID, its construction was certainly possible!


A much debated question relates to teaching ID in the science classroom. Shouldn’t one teach ID in the public schools because, as former President George W. Bush9 enticingly suggested, “an essential part of education is to expose the student to different schools of thought.” Aren’t creationists right when they say that a central feature of a liberal education is to acquaint the student with various points of view?

The flaw in this suggestion is the following. In other disciplines (philosophy, theology, political science, economics, etc.), there exists more than one legitimate school of thought. In science, however, there is only one correct explanation for each physical phenomenon.

Phlogiston theory is not a “different point of view” to explain the rusting of metals, to which “the student should be exposed to give him a liberal education.” Phlogiston theory is wrong! Chemical oxidation is the only correct explanation for rusting. Similarly, caloric theory is wrong! And the ether theory is wrong! Therefore, these incorrect theories are never taught in the science classroom, except perhaps to explain to the student why these theories are wrong.

It should be noted that Newton’s mechanics is not wrong. Rather, Newtonian mechanics is a highly accurate approximation to Einstein’s theory of relativity and to quantum theory (except for extremely high speeds or extremely tiny particles). In fact, Newton’s theory is so accurate over such a wide range of circumstances that every student of physics is required to learn Newtonian mechanics. In complete contrast to this situation, caloric theory, phlogiston theory, and ether theory are not approximations to some correct theory. They are simply wrong.


Intelligent Design is not a new concept. Ancient peoples observed phenomena that seemed completely inexplicable to them, and they postulated supernatural beings (analogous to today’s Intelligent Designer) to explain these phenomena. Raging seas, towering waves, daily tides, terrifying hurricanes – all these seemed to have no possible explanation other than the activities of the “god of the seas.” The dazzling sun, whose brilliance provides the light, heat and energy that makes life on earth possible, seemed to have no explanation other than the “sun god.” The list goes on and on, accounting for the vast pantheon of gods that characterized the ancient world.

The ancients asked sophisticated questions about the world in which they lived. If their questions seem primitive today, it is only in the hindsight of modern science. Consider the following example. I am holding a pen. If I let go, the pen will fall to the floor. Already at age four, my grandson knows that if he lets go of his ball, it will fall. Everyone knows that an object falls unless held up by some entity. That’s just common sense.

The ancients asked: Why does the earth itself not fall? They answered that the reason must be because the earth is being held up by some divine entity, a god whom the Greeks named Atlas. Moreover, they understood that one cannot ask: Why does Atlas not fall? As a god, Atlas was not bound by the laws of falling; he may remain suspended at will.


Michael Behe is carrying on this tradition. He could not imagine any possible physical explanation for the IC of the living cell. Therefore, he postulated a supernatural being. Had Behe lived in the ancient world, he might have referred to this supernatural being as the “god of the cell.” However, in the twentieth century, such terminology is unbecoming. Intelligent Designer sounds much better.

One would think that something would have been learned from past experience. It has been shown time and again that physical phenomena that are not understood at the moment do become understood subsequently within the laws of nature. Science has an excellent track record and is not to be abandoned lightly. If scientists do not understand some particular phenomenon, they think harder. They don’t throw up their hands and give up the search.

In complete contrast to this traditional approach of science, the proponents of ID have abandoned the search for a scientific explanation for IC (that is, within the laws of nature) and have proposed a supernatural explanation instead (that is, ID).


Seeking proofs for the existence of God sounds quaint to the modern ear, but it was a matter of great importance to medieval philosophers, both Jewish (e.g., Maimonides) and Christian (e.g., Thomas Aquinas). Why was it so important to these outstanding thinkers to be able to prove that God exists?

To answer this question, one must return to the period that preceded modern science. In the ancient world, discovering the laws of nature by experimentation was a foreign idea. The mathematicians had discovered the laws of geometry by pure reason, and it was viewed as self-evident that this was the appropriate method for studying the physical universe as well. Indeed, performing careful experiments and carrying out detailed observations seemed unbecoming to the philosopher. His realm of activity was the mind; only a servant or an artisan would “get his hands dirty” with the many menial tasks required to carry out an experiment. An exception was astronomy, where the ancients excelled at observing the motion of the heavenly bodies, the great handiwork of the Creator. Since the heavenly bodies were exalted, observing their motion could not be degrading. However, examining earthly objects was deemed inappropriate for the philosopher – the thinker. Thus, we find in philosophical texts that in contrast to a man, a woman has only twenty teeth (the correct number for both sexes is thirty-two). It did not occur to the scholastic philosopher to count a woman’s teeth. Such a prosaic act was completely unnecessary. Everything could be determined by reason, logic and thought.

The above approach was not limited to the study of the universe. It was believed that all fundamental questions could be answered by logical deduction and pure reason. Since medieval theologians believed that God exists, they naturally assumed that His existence must be susceptible to rigorous proof. Indeed, in their eyes, the inability to prove that God exists might even cast doubt on His existence.

Because of their reverent attitude towards the power of logic, many Jewish philosophers devoted considerable effort to arguments intended to prove that God exists. Although this subject is nowhere discussed in the Bible or in the Talmud, proofs for the existence of God are a major topic in the writings of prominent medieval Jewish philosophers. It is instructive to analyze these arguments and their shortcomings. Consider the most famous proof of all – the “prime mover argument.”

We all experience in our daily lives the truism asserted by Aristotle: “There is no motion without a mover.” When I rearrange the living-room furniture under the watchful eye of my wife, I am painfully aware of the fact that the couch will not budge even one centimeter unless I push it, and the instant that I stop pushing, the couch ceases its motion. If I throw a ball, its motion persists momentarily even after it leaves my hand because I have imparted some “impetus” to the ball. According to the widely accepted “impetus theory,” the ball will continue to move until it uses up all its acquired impetus. Then, the ball will come to rest because “there is no motion without a mover.”

Let us now turn our attention to the heavenly bodies, whose ceaseless motion can be observed day after day, year after year, century after century. What causes the ceaseless motion of the heavenly bodies? It must surely be a supernatural entity (God to the medieval theologian; Intelligent Designer in today’s terminology).

The bubble burst in the seventeenth century, when Isaac Newton formulated his famous three laws of motion in the Principia, the most important book of science ever written. Newton’s law of inertia states, in contrast to Aristotle, that a moving body will continue to move forever unless some force causes it to stop. In the above examples, the force that causes the furniture or the ball to stop moving is friction. However, if friction were not present, then the motion would persist forever. In the heavens, there is no friction. Therefore, according to the law of inertia, heavenly bodies will move forever without any agency being required to keep them moving.

To complete the picture, Newton’s law of inertia predicts straight-line motion, whereas the orbit of the planets is an ellipse. This is due to the gravitational attraction between the sun and the planets, which yields the observed elliptical orbits. Planetary motion is completely described by the laws of nature, without the need to invoke a supernatural entity. The “prime mover proof” for the existence of God is thus refuted.


The “prime mover proof” for the existence of God was based on a lack of knowledge of physics. This is an example of what is called the “God of the gaps.” When some phenomenon seems completely inexplicable, one says, “Aha! It must be God Who is causing this phenomenon.” The problem with this approach is that the “completely inexplicable” phenomenon (“gap” in our knowledge) invariably becomes explained as science progresses. As each “gap” in scientific knowledge closes, God is forced to retreat to the next “completely inexplicable” phenomenon. “God of the gaps” arguments thus place God in continual retreat before the relentless advance of science. Surely, this is not the path of a believing person in the search for the Almighty.

This important point is worth emphasizing. Even if one could find no fault in Behe’s claim that IC is completely incompatible with Darwinian evolution, the response of the scientist should be: “Good question! I’ll think about it.” The response should not be that of Behe, namely, since I cannot think of a scientific explanation, it follows that IC must have been caused by an Intelligent Designer.


What is the attitude of leading Jewish scholars today toward possible proofs for the existence of God? Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik10 writes that such proofs have never been of any importance to him. As a man of faith, he neither sought nor was he impressed by proofs. Rather, the primary element of faith is to be found within the human spirit. The exhortation “seek and you shall find” is directed inward, to the depths of the soul, rather than outward, to the logical “proofs” of the philosophers. To Rabbi Soloveitchik, it is the Kierkegaardian “leap of faith” that brings man into communion with the Almighty.


The twelfth-century Jewish theologian and philosopher Moses Maimonides,11 after whom this journal is named, wrote that although the believing Jew accepts that Genesis is the word of God, it does not follow that he/she must understand every word in Genesis literally, because “the paths of interpretation are not closed to us.” Maimonides asserted that whenever the literal meaning of the words of Genesis contradicts well-established scientific knowledge, one should set aside the literal meaning and interpret the Genesis words figuratively.

Therefore, according to Maimonides, the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution does not present any problem at all to the religious person who believes that the Book of Genesis is the word of God. My own essay12 on this subject, entitled “Evolution – Is There a Problem Here?”, ends with this sentence: “It follows that the religious person has no cause to oppose the scientific findings about evolution.”

The reason for the universal opposition to Intelligent Design among scientists is that they view ID as a rejection of science and a return to the ancient world of spirits, deities, and other supernatural beings that were previously proposed to explain many physical phenomena. Scientists look to the laws of nature, and not to supernatural entities, for the explanation of the physical phenomena that they observe.

Jewish tradition confirms the assumption of science that there is regularity to nature and the physical universe operates according to fixed laws (olam ke’minhago noheg).13 Indeed, Jews are forbidden to depend on a miracle for supplying one’s needs or for solving one’s problems (ain somchin al ha’nes).14 Praying to God for the occurrence of a supernatural event is denounced in the Talmud as “useless prayer” (tefilath shav) and strictly forbidden.15

The above paragraph should not be interpreted as implying that God does not interact with the physical world. This is certainly not the case, as Maimonides has stressed. Otherwise, our prayers to God would have no meaning. Thus, the key question is not whether, but how God influences events.

The Talmud relates to this question by saying that divine providence is bestowed in a manner that is “hidden from the eye” (samooe min ha’ayin).16 In other words, the framework in which God interacts with the physical world is within the laws of nature. Divine intervention rarely involves overtly supernatural events.

Does science assume that miracles do not occur? This would be a serious problem for the religious Jew, because Maimonides17 wrote that one who does not believe in the occurrence of miracles is a heretic. How does a religious scientist accommodate science’s assumed regularity of the universe with Maimonides’s dictum about the existence of miracles?

Science does not assume that miracles do not occur. Rather, science assumes that the universe usually operates through the laws of nature, and one is to ignore entirely the miraculous in seeking explanations for physical phenomena. Thus, my atheist colleague will claim (and that is all that it is – a claim) that miracles never occur, whereas I will claim (based on my religious beliefs) that miracles do occur, at the will of the Almighty, but their occurrence is so rare that miracles do not intrude into my scientific research. The religious scientist never invokes the supernatural as the explanation of any physical phenomenon. He/she recognizes that accepting the existence of miracles is based on religious belief.

Where did the laws of nature come from? Science is silent on this question and assumes the existence of laws of nature. The entire enterprise of science is concerned with discovering the laws of nature and with explaining all physical phenomena in terms of these laws.

In fact, there is no a priori reason why there should be regularity to nature. Albert Einstein found the existence of laws of nature to be quite surprising, writing: “The most incomprehensible feature of the universe is that it is comprehensible.”18

However, the believing person finds deep meaning in the existence of laws of nature and attributes them to God. A well-known religious scientist has written: “The existence of an orderly world, having definite laws of nature, is an expression of the faithfulness of God.”19 This statement echoes the words of Genesis 8:22.

Where did the universe come from? Science now has something to say on this question. The universally accepted “big bang” theory of cosmology asserts that the universe had a beginning, which cosmologists commonly refer to as the “creation.”20 For example, Nobel laureate Paul Dirac writes: “It seems certain that there was a definite time of creation”.21

Science is silent regarding what caused the creation. “The creation lies outside the scope of the known laws of physics.”22 However, the believing person will see in Dirac’s scientific statement a striking confirmation of the opening verse of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” This opinion of the believer is not related to science, but rather, to faith.

Evolution and cosmology have become established branches of hard science. Judaism has always shown great devotion to science and the pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, Intelligent Design, which denies evolution, has no place in the weltanschauung of the religious Jew.


Many topics have been covered in this article. It is time to summarize.

  1. The proposal of ID has nothing to do with creationism. Neither Behe nor any other proponent of ID ever invoked the words of Genesis as a justification for ID.

  2. The proposal of ID has no connection whatsoever with the “argument for design,” except for sharing a common word – design – in its name. The “argument from design” deals with complex systems, which need not be IC, whereas ID deals with IC systems, which need not be complex (such as the Behe’s simple mouse-trap).

  3. The proposal of ID is a “God-of-the-gaps” argument, because Behe invoked the supernatural Intelligent Designer as a result of his inability (gap in his knowledge) to think of a Darwinian explanation for the evolution of an IC system.

  4. The religious person who believes that the Book of Genesis is the word of God need not hesitate to accept the scientific findings that demonstrate the evolution of the animal kingdom.

  5. The most common proposed refutation of ID, namely, that IC systems are formed by scavenging already existing parts, does not explain most examples of IC (“might happen very, very rarely”).

  6. The refutation of ID proposed by H. Allen Orr covers all cases of IC, and should therefore be viewed as the definitive refutation. Orr has shown that an IC system can be formed through gradual evolution, with each step offering an additional survival advantage, even though the final system will not function at all unless every part is present.


IDintelligent design;
ICirreducible complexity


Conflict of interest: No potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.


1. Behe MJ. Darwin's Black Box – The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York, NY: Free Press; 1996. p. 233.

2. Ruse M. The Myth That Intelligent Design Represents a Scientific Challenge to Evolution. In: Numbers RL, editor. Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 2009. pp. 206–14.

3. Pennock RT. Preface. In: Pennock RT, editor. Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics; Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; 2001. p. ix.

4. Forrest B. The Wedge at Work: How Intelligent Design Creationism is Wedging Its Way into the Cultural and Academic Mainstream. In: Pennock RT, editor. Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics; Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; 2001. p. 5.

5. Kitchner P. Born-Again Creationism. In: Pennock RT, editor. Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics; Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; 2001. pp. 257–87.

6. Miller KR. Finding Darwin's God. New York, NY: Harper-Collins; 1999. p. 134.p. 136.

7. Dorit R. Molecular evolution and scientific inquiry, misperceived. Amer Scientist. 1997;85:474–5.

8. Orr HA. Darwin v. Intelligent Design (again) Boston Rev. 1996;21(6):34–42.

9. Washington Post, 3 August 2005, A1.

10. Soloveitchik JB. The lonely man of faith. Tradition. 1965;7(2):9–10. 29.

11. Maimonides M. Guide for the Perplexed. Part 2: Chap 25.

12. Aviezer N. Fossils and Faith. New York, NY: Ktav; 2001. pp. 69–85.

13. See, for example, Maimonides M. Mishneh Torah. Laws of Kings 12:1.

14. Berlin M, Zevin SY, editors. Talmudic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Jerusalem: 1973. pp. 679–80.

15. Babylonian Talmud. Tractate Berachoth:54a.

16. Babylonian Talmud. Tractate Bava Metzia:29b.

17. Maimonides M. Guide for the Perplexed. Part 2:Chap 25.

18. Jammer M. Einstein and Religion. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press; 1999. p. 42. Quoted by.

19. Polkinghorne J. Science and Theology. London: SPCK; 1998. p. 84.

20. Aviezer N. In the Beginning. New York, NY: Ktav; 1990. pp. 9–14. For a non-technical account of the Big Bang theory, see.

21. Dirac PAM. Recent results in cosmology. Commentarii. 1972;2(11):15.

22. Hawking SW. The Large-Scale Structure of Space-Time. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press; 1973. p. 364. [Cross Ref]

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