Yesterday I tried to set aside a question about the relation between creationism and intelligent design, but bobxxx commented,
I have a few things to say about creationism and intelligent design. I think people who pretend these are different ideas are being dishonest. Invoking creationism is the same as invoking supernatural magic. Invoking intelligent design is the same as invoking supernatural magic.
… and it really does call for a thoughtful response. I have already answered him on the use of the word “magic,” so I will focus on the general question of creationism and ID.
D1. Self-Described Creationists‘ Definitions of Creationism Let’s consider the definitions as they are put forward by different groups. First, those who use the term “creationist” describe themselves. There are two broad categories: old-earth creationists and young-earth creationists. Both agree on the following:
God is eternal, immaterial, all-powerful, omniscient
God created the universe ex nihilo, out of nothing. Matter, space, and time are not eternal but were created by his own word.
Life was originated on earth by God’s direct action, and God was directly involved in the formation of each new kind of organism. “Kind” is defined more loosely than species by most creationists, allowing for the possibility that closely related species (like dogs and wolves, for one very obvious example) resulted from a single creative intervention.
Humans were not only specially created in the sense of (3), but were also imbued with God’s image, meaning that God gave us, in a special creative act, the ability to reason, to communicate, to relate to others and to God as persons, to make choices with moral significance, to create, and so on.
Most crucial of all: the first three chapters of Genesis, understood literally, are a reliable guide to the science and the proper understanding of the history of life, the universe and (pardon the allusion) everything. It is from this conviction that (1) through (4) flow.
Young-earth creationists hold that all of this happened recently, in the past 10,000 years or so, and that scientific evidences for an older universe are based on various misinterpretations that I will not go into here, except to note that they consider the form of the fossil record to be the result of a universal Noahic flood. Old-earth creationists disagree: they accept the plain (in my opinion) evidence showing that the universe is about 14-15 billion years old, the earth is 3.5 billion years old, and so on. Old-earthers differ among themselves in their views on the Flood and its influence on geology and paleontology. They generally agree with (5) the validity of the first three chapters of Genesis, but they hold that its original intent was that some of the language be taken in some figurative sense, allowing for the passage of more than six 24-hour days in the process.
D2. Intelligent Design Proponents’ Definition of ID Proponents of Intelligent Design define ID quite simply in these terms: there are features of life and natural history that are best explained by inference to an intelligent source in their origination. This is an uniformitarian argument: we see wherever the origin of complex information and certain other types of complexity can be identified, it always comes from an intelligence. We see complex information and those certain types of complexity in nature, and we can rationally infer intelligence also as the source of that. (I do not intend to go into the details of what constitutes such information and complexity; that’s not my purpose here and others are more qualified to discuss it.)
D3. ID/Creationism Opponents’ Definition of Creationism Jerry Coyne helpfully provided one definition of creationism, from the perspective of an opponent to the view. I’ll quote it again in full:
But regardless of their views, all creationists share four traits. First, they devoutly believe in God. No surprise there, except to those who think that ID has a secular basis. Second, they claim that God miraculously intervened in the development of life, either creating every species from scratch or intruding from time to time in an otherwise Darwinian process. Third, they agree that one of these interventions was the creation of humans, who could not have evolved from apelike ancestors. This, of course, reflects the Judeo-Christian view that humans were created in God’s image. Fourth, they all adhere to a particular argument called “irreducible complexity.” This is the idea that some species, or some features of some species, are too complex to have evolved in a Darwinian manner, and must therefore have been designed by God.
That’s not a bad description of creationism as accepted by those who call themselves creationists, except that (4) irreducible complexity is optional; “scientific creationism” preceded any discussion of irreducible complexity by several decades.
D4. ID/Creationism Opponents‘ Definition of Intelligent Design I think the most common definition of ID I’ve seen spoken among its opponents “is creationism in a cheap tuxedo.” The general sense is that it’s the same as creationism defined in D1, except ID people try to hide the religious aspect.
So how do we sort out all of these definitions? Let us first note that ID (D3) makes no reference to the Bible as a research source. Therefore D1(5), the most crucial methodological component of D1 creationism, is completely out of the picture. If Genesis is of utmost importance to D1 creationists, and of no particular relevance to D2 Intelligent Design, can ID be the same as creationism? Frankly, this is possible only if the D2 Intelligent Design definition is an IDer’s lie. That’s where the D4 accusation of hiding comes from, and the belief that ID is dishonest is widely held. This is in spite of the fact that none of the arguments for ID depend on the Bible, or even make reference to it.
D1 creationism and D2 Intelligent Design share two crucial point of agreement: that it’s okay to consider the possibility that the world is not a closed system of natural cause and effect. This above all else is what raises ire among people like Jerry Coyne, who, as we have seen, will lump a committed evolutionist like Kenneth MIller in with a creationist like Ken Ham, because Miller believes in a God who has intervened in history—not the development of life, to be sure, but at least the original creation of the universe and the life of Christ.
D1 creationism and D2 Intelligent Design also share the opinion that neo-Darwinism and its variants are inadequate to explain the origin and development of life on earth.
Rhetorical Ploys ID opponents consider Intelligent Design to be playing a rhetorical game: disguising and hiding their real agenda, which is religious (reports like this make put that in doubt, of course, and there are indeed many non-religious ID proponents). I think there is another rhetorical game going on. Opponents of Intelligent Design have a reason for equating it with creationism. Creationism (D1, young-earth variety) has a terrible scientific reputation, and it has a clear religious agenda that has been ruled out of school by U.S. courts. Though ID (D2) is quite clearly distinct from creationism (D1), it serves opponents’ rhetorical purpose to associate it with a long-standing poor science record and with religious motivations.
What About Dover?
Judge Jones ruled in Dover that ID really is creationism, and it really is religious. On this I think he was simply wrong. D2 is not equal to D1. Of course the local body, the Dover School Board, was not so clear on this, and they did have a religious motivation for introducing the topic of ID into the schools. On this they erred, but ID leaders know the difference more clearly than that.
One reason Jones ruled as he did is because of clear evidence that the library book in question, Of Pandas and People, used the term “creationism” rather than “Intelligent Design” in its early drafts. “Aha!” shouted the opponents, “Here’s proof that the two are the same, and they’re just hiding it!” No, that’s only proof if the term was used in the D1 sense in the original drafts, which according to my information was not the case.
There was a time when there was only one term in general usage for the view that evolution is an inadequate theory; and there was a time when that term “creationism,” was not as clearly defined as it can be now. There is nothing unusual about vocabulary evolving in that way, and every writer knows there’s nothing unusual about realizing your first draft is wrong and needs correcting. The time came when it was clear that creationism was the wrong word. ID opponents say this was because proponents saw the political disadvantage in it. Frankly, that too smacks as a rhetorical move on their part. Do they have evidence from the writers that this was their motive?. What about the possibility that the writers realized they were using the wrong word, because what they were talking about wasn’t D1 creationism at all, but D2 Intelligent Design?
What About Intelligent Design Proponents Who Are Religious?
Finally, what about people like me and many others who support ID and are at the same time openly believers in God? I believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and that he was directly involved in the development of the various kinds of organisms. I hold to an old-earth version of D1 creationism, and I support ID. There are many others who would say the same. Does that make ID equivalent to creationism? Well, I believe that squirrels eat birdseed, while at the same time being convinced that birds eat birdseed. Does that mean I think squirrels are birds? Of course not.
I can support a program that seeks natural evidences for design, and at the same time hold the Bible teaches design, and at the same time recognize that those two attitudes are not identical to each other. That’s not so hard to see, is it?
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