Big-ID and small-id – Why does it matter?

“I believe in intelligent design, lower case i and lower case d. But I have a problem with Intelligent Design, capital I and capital D. It is being sold increasingly as a political movement, as if somehow it is an alternative to Darwinian evolution.” – Owen Gingerich (God’s Universe. Cambridge: Belnap Press, 2006)

 I’m going to refer to this distinction here as Big-ID and small-id and support Gingerich’s position against the IDM.

A few months ago, over at the Blog ‘Uncommon Descent,’ a key Big-ID forum, one of the most outspoken critics of BioLogos and ‘theistic evolution’ and biggest defenders of ‘intelligent design’ theories, pseudo-named ‘Timaeus’ said this about what he called ‘big ID’ and ‘small id’:

“By ‘small id’ I meant any argument that infers design (not necessarily God, just design, though of course God could be the designer) from the facts of nature, whether it was written 2500 years ago or today. By ‘big ID’ I meant the formal organization of people sympathetic with such arguments into bodies such as the Discovery Institute and Uncommon Descent and more generally with prominent people such as Behe, Dembski, Wells, Meyer, Nelson. All ‘big ID’ people accept ‘small id’ arguments, but not all ‘small id’ sympathizers want anything to do with ‘big ID’ institutional activities.” – Timaeus (

Thus, for Timaeus, Big-ID is mainly about whether or not someone wishes to join the Intelligent Design Movement, i.e. to get involved in the “institutional activities” promoted by the Discovery Institute (DI and its sputniks). My definition of these terms is a bit different than Timaeus’ and is shared by others who reject the institutional activities of Big-ID as well as its ‘scientific’ proof claims.

For me and Gingerich and others, the term ‘small-id’ refers to the idea that “God-did-it,” but that we don’t know exactly how and ‘science-alone’ cannot prove it one way or another. This is accepted by a vast majority of TEers and ECers. Indeed, it is the basic Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Baha’i view of the Creation of the Universe.

Big-ID otoh refers to Discovery Institute as heart of a Movement as well as the view that ‘design/Design’ can be (and even has been!) proven by natural scientific methods, which is promoted by the intelligent design/Intelligent Design movement (or community). Here one has to use both not-capitalized and capitalized forms of id/ID because the IDM or Big-ID community uses both variants whenever they believe it suits them.

There are thus people who sympathise with or promote ‘intelligent design’ (small-id) yet who are not in the IDM and who do not wish to be (for a variety of reasons). Therefore, since I am referring to the views of those *in* the IDM, it is logical to distinguish Big-ID from the small-id of non-IDMers, so as not to conflate different meanings of id/ID. This is also the meaning I have used in distinguishing DI-IDM-ID (Discovery Institute-Intelligent Design Movement-ID) or simply IDM-ID, so as to create space for those who accept small-id, but reject Big-ID, such as Gingerich.

Theoretical physicist and Lutheran minister George Murphy wrote this in 2005 about the two types of intelligent design (small-id) /Intelligent Design (Big-ID) (

“a) intelligent design (normally without caps) as a theological affirmation that a rational God has purposes for creation. In this sense  all Christians (& many others) believe in id.

b) Intelligent Design (often capitalized) as a claim that divine purpose can be discerned (at least partly) from scientific observation, & that the idea of design should be made part of scientific theories.”

This view was supported by others at the American Scientific Affiliation and is likely one of the reasons that Uncommon Descent writes so harshly about ASA. The latter organisation has seen through Timaeus’ simple dichotomy to identify the basic problem with Big-ID: it claims ‘design in nature’ can be ‘scientifically proven’ whereas most people don’t agree.

“Is there such a thing as “intelligently designed theistic evolution”? Maybe I would fit in there.” – Eddie (

Yes, I think there are quite a number of people who have a similar inclination. They accept some or all features of the small-id position, but at the same time they also accept cosmological evolution and even most aspects of biological evolution, including what Eddie says about Behe’s view, i.e. they accept an “ancient earth, an ancient human race, and macroevolution, including the evolution of the human body.” The major problem they have is with the Big-ID ‘intelligent design’ movement and the politically-motivated institutions that promote it, which most people are not practically interested in joining. Likewise, they don’t think that ‘natural science’ can prove ‘design without a designer.’

One reason for this is that ‘theistic evolution’ already presumes (small-id) ‘intelligent design,’ so it takes no convincing for them to accept that “God-did-it.” This is where it has been repeated time and again to Big-IDers who just seem unwilling to accept the well-placed rebuke. Claiming ‘science can prove it’ is different from actually providing the proof and even the rationale behind suggesting that a proof is possible. Committing themselves to probabilism and trying to ‘eliminate chance with small probabilities’ has led to a philosophical dead-end for Big-ID.

This house holds that Big-ID is a category error that is trying to force ‘design’ by ‘intelligence’ into fields of study in which it does not properly belong, i.e. biology and genetics. The major theme of Big-ID, however, is actually philosophy, sociology and communication of ‘science’ in schools and to the public. This is not surprising since several of the founders of the IDM were inspired to promote Big-ID in the first place because of their opposition to a former professor of public understanding of science, Richard Dawkins.

Thus, they prefer to define themselves negatively by who they are not, i.e. anti-(neo-)Darwinists, rather than by who they are, mainly Christians and Jews who would wish to enable for small-id a place again at the scientific table. It is Big-ID people who obfuscate between small-id and Big-ID, wanting to make their small theory into a Big deal that everyone else should follow.


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