A few days I posed a tentative question, wondering whether some of those who do not distinguish Intelligent Design from creationism may be exhibiting a kind of worldview blindness, one that causes them to see everyone different themselves as being all the same. That led to one of the highest-velocity discussions I can remember having on this blog, continuing also here.
I posed it as a question, not a dogmatic statement, and I am committed to remaining a learner in this blogging business. Anyone can suffer from worldview blindness; in fact, I’m sure to some extent all of us do. The best antidote I know of is to listen to and learn from people with different perspectives. Having had this discussion, I would not pose the question the same way I did on Sunday.
I’m still in the process, but this is how I would summarize my views following this discussion (so far). Can Intelligent Design be distinguished from creationism? Several commenters said no, for historical reasons. Its roots are intertwined with scientific creationism of the mid-twentieth century. Early writers on ID used the term interchangeably with creationism for a period of time in the 1990s. Some ID proponents are or have been believers in special creation, some of them even believing in young-earth creation. And ID’s most likely and most common interpretation is that the Designer was God, who is believed to have actually created the world ex nihilo.
So there are multiple ways to define creationism. One commenter said creationism was anti-evolutionism, and if so then ID is creationism. I challenged that person’s view: not that it was necessarily wrong, but that it was an essentially private view that most people would not think of when they hear or read “creationism.” Still it demonstrates that there is not just one way of looking at things.
I acknowledge now that there is a sense in which ID is (usually) a form of creationism, broadly construed as the belief that there has or have been some creation event or events outside the course of law- and chance-driven natural processes. In that broad sense of the term I proudly stand up and proclaim myself a creationist. I was wrong in my first post to define it exclusively in the terms that I used then:
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.
On the other hand, Plato and Aristotle both made inferences to a First Cause or a designer of some sort, so it is obviously possible to draw a design inference without being a theistic creationist. In the first twenty or so comments on the first post it became apparent that we were dealing with an issue of multiple definitions. That issue was still at the forefront early this morning. For without dispute there are different ways of viewing creationism. On Monday morning I began asking the question a different way: given that there are varying meanings attached to the term, which one is relevant? I content that the relevant meaning of the word is whatever springs to most readers’ or hearer’s minds when they encounter the word, and secondarily it is whatever the person who uses the word intends when they speak or write it.
If every person who said “Intelligent Design is creationism” or insisted always on calling it “Intelligent Design Creationism,” had the broad definition in mind; and if every listener understood it that way, then there would be no strong reason to quibble over it. (There would still be technical problems with it, but I wouldn’t argue them myself.) I don’t think that’s the way the world is, though. It’s certainly not the sense conveyed by my chief interlocutor in these two posts, when he famously said, “Intelligent Design is creationism in a cheap tuxedo. If there was a court case, it would not be found constitutional.” It’s not the sense conveyed in a comment like,
Intelligent Design as a term has quite simply been hijacked for the political purposes of sidestepping the First Amendment in education when Creation Science finally failed its constitutional test.
Charlie reminded us of one ID leader’s take on the topic:
Is [Phillip] Johnson a creationist? The trial lawyer answers the question cautiously, demanding to define the term. “In what sense?,” he asks. “The word ‘creationist’ has been turned by the media into a very specialized word: it means a young-earth, six-day, Biblical literalist.”
If he is right (and I think he is), then that is the relevant definition for purposes of the discussion we have been having.
So for now this is where I land:
I would be interested to hear if anyone else who has been involved in these discussions could point to anything they learned from them.
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