Posted on Oct 11, 2009
Several times in the last few days the term “Intelligent Design Creationism” has crossed my line of sight. It’s a misnomer, a duct-taped concatenation of concepts that overlap somewhat, but not enough to merit being stuck together the way ID opponents have done. Robert Pennock is perhaps the worst, but Barbara Forrest, Richard Dawkins, and P.Z. Myers are also frequent offenders.
The difference between the two terms is straightforward. Creationism begins in Genesis and argues for certain conclusions based on a certain understanding of the Scriptures. It is known for its persistence in seeking scientific data that fits that interpretation of Genesis, and for finding creative but irregular interpretations to help in that search. As such it has gained an unsavory scientific reputation.
Intelligent Design has a completely different starting point in observations of nature, and in both empirical and philosophical interpretations of scientific data. It sees phenomena like the high information content in biological organisms, instances of apparent irreducible complexity, or fine-tuning of the cosmos for life, and argues that the best explanation for them is to be found in a designing intelligence.
The two overlap in rejecting any a priori insistence that nature is a closed system of physical cause and effect, acting strictly according to natural law or unguided chance. There is also an overlap among their supporters, in that virtually all creationists are theists (Christian, Jewish, or Islamic), and most (not all) ID supporters are too. Still, many creationists are uncomfortable with ID methods and conclusions, and many ID supporters similarly disagree with creationist approaches and conclusions.
In a word, the two are not the same. But opponents insist on blurring the distinction.
I have theorized in the past that their reason for doing so was simply to manipulate the rhetoric of the discussion, to tar ID with the same unscientific reputation held by creationism. This weekend another possibility occurred to me: maybe they really can’t tell the difference.
I don’t mean that quite as negatively as it might seem, or I should say, not in the way it might seem. I don’t mean to imply that they are too unintelligent to make a distinction. What I’m wondering about is whether they are handicapped by worldview blindness. I’m not drawing a conclusion; I’m just wondering.
Worldview blindness, if it exists in the form I’m thinking of, would go like this: There is the scientific, rational way of viewing the world, and there is everything else; and everything else is superstition or religion. The scientific rational way is the intelligent way, the way that comports with reality, the refined and educated way of looking at things. The religious way, on the other hand, is undifferentiated; it’s all of one irrational sort. Distinctions within the religious way are therefore just semantical, since it’s all really just one thing.
If this analysis is true for some ID antagonists, it is an ironic one. They consider themselves to be the careful, rational, empirical thinkers, but there is a whole landscape they cannot even see.
It’s not only ironic, though. We have a term for people who say, “Everyone like me is good, and as for those who aren’t like me, well, I can’t tell any difference between them anyway.” It’s not a very favorable term, either.
I wish I could think of some other explanation than the two I’ve suggested here. I would welcome other ideas. For now, it seems to me that the failure to distinguish ID from creationism stems either from intentional rhetorical manipulation, which is dishonest, or from worldview blindness, which is a different kind of fault but not much better.