OREM — Intelligent design is not yet a solid scientific theory, but it soon may gain legitimacy as an explanation of how Earth and its inhabitants came to be, one of the country's foremost proponents of the alternative to the theory of evolution said.

Intelligent design is slowly making inroads in the mainstream science community. Evolutionary scientists are increasingly arguing against ID in reputable journals such as Science and Nature, biological philosopher Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute said Friday.

Nelson was one of four experts on a panel at Utah Valley State College's Religion and the Humanities Conference, "Intelligent Design: Toward an Intelligent Discussion." He was the only member of the panel to defend ID.

ID is a theory that organisms are so complex they must have been created by a higher intelligence or god. Nelson used as an example a comparison of a robotic dog with a golden retriever. If a robodog is created by human intelligence; it's possible that the retriever also was created by an intelligence, he said.

That example, said UVSC anthropologist and ID critic Mark Jeffreys, is "a 2,000 year-old argument at least, based on psychological intuition."

One of the foremost critics of ID, Florida State University philosophy professor Michael Ruse, said ID is even questionable theologically.

"If God is a hands-on designer, how do you explain weapons of some (animals) that can inflict pain?" Ruse said.

Nelson said a thorough examination of ID requires belief in human agency, or the right to make choices.

"My concern is, explanations are relatively cheap," said Duane Jeffery, a biology professor at Brigham Young University. "You can make explanations for this, that and the other: God is testing us, God is rewarding us."

After Charles Darwin proposed the basic theory of evolution in 1859, Nelson said, decades passed before scientific experiments confirmed the findings, and "evolution itself went through several decades of crisis."

ID is only 15 years old, "so I cannot offer you today a fully articulated theory of biological design that does not yet exist," he said.

Rather, Nelson believes ID is also about intellectual freedom and lifting the definitions of words such as "miracle" or "supernatural."

Nelson used an example of the death penalty. Judges and juries convict people to die, although they've never witnessed the crime.

"That's putting a lot of weight on an inference in a practical sense," which is how scientists treat evolution, he said.

E-mail: [email protected]