Tom Gilson

“ID Creationism:” The Communication Question

Cameron said this morning, in the thread, “Maybe They Really Can’t Tell the Difference,”

The relevant purpose here, per the OP, is to determine if ID shares enough similarities with creationism to justify using the term “ID creationism.”

That’s an excellent clarifying point, so thank you, Cameron. The answer is quite simple. The point of putting words in sentences is to communicate through them. It is a communication issue. From a communication perspective, what does “creationism” contribute to the term, “intelligent design”? Does it promote understanding or confusion?

Versions of Creationism

That’s a helpful question worthy of exploring. Adding “creationism” to ID indicates that it’s a subspecies of creationism. That means it is a subspecies of one or more of these beliefs, all of which could be called creationist:

1. That something or someone unknown, outside the natural order, has intervened through a creative act sometime in natural history (a bare, minimal denial of philosophical materialism as a way of viewing origins)

2. That some god or gods created the initial conditions of the universe and has let it unfold uninterrupted since then, without intervention and without teleological design of any sort. Life happened, but not because of any divine intent (Deism; bare, minimal denial of philosophical materialism, with the addition of some deity)

3. That God created the universe billions of years ago and “front-loaded” the initial conditions so that unfolding natural processes would inevitably lead to life as it now exists (“front-loading”)

3.1 And signs or hints of his work in doing so aredetectable scientifically now, looking backward (FL with God’s fingerprints)

3.2 And signs of his work in doing so are not detectable (FL undetectable)

4.That God created the universe billions of years ago, starting with a Big Bang, and has let it unfold without interruption except by seeding the earth with its first life. Subsequent life evolved from that point with some intervention from God, but none that would be detectable by the tools of observation even as it was happening, much less looking back eons in time (Theistic Evolution)

4.1 And humans were no exception: we evolved by unguided chance and selection just like every other organism (TE non-exceptionalism)

4.2 Humans are the one exception; God intended and directed us to evolve the way we did, but his intervention then is not subject to being detected by science today (TE exceptionalism)

5. That God created the universe billions of years ago starting with a Big Bang and intervened on earth to produce the first life and subsequent life in ways that leave recognizable signs or hints of his intervention at various points along the way (Fingerprints on Creation)

6. That God created the universe some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, all scientific indicators of an older universe are either misinterpreted data or some other form of confusion, and that each kind or species was a distinct separate act of creation (Genesis interpreted literally)

6.1 And signs of his creative acts are detectable by science today (Scientific Creationism)

6.2 And signs of his creative acts are not detectable by science today (Creationism without scientific support)

I’m sure this is not a complete list, but it serves the purpose. (I made up the “Fingerprints on Creation” label; if anyone knows a better or more standard label, please let me know.) What these have in common is that something outside the natural order did something at some point in natural history. Otherwise they are quite different and in many aspects mutually contradictory.

Confusion and Contradiction

Of these, ID’s hypotheses are fully consistent only with 3.1 and 5 (Front-loading with God’s Fingerprints; Fingerprints on Creation). It shares with Scientific Creationism the expectation that signs or hints of some of God’s creative acts in history may be detectable scientifically, but it does not share Scientific Creationism’s biblical assumptions, its insistence on a young earth, or its a priori denial of common descent. Intelligent Design’s hypotheses are generally in contradiction to the other versions I’ve listed here.

Evolution, on the other hand, is quite consistent with 2, 3.2, 4.1, and 4.2 (Deism, Front-loading Undetectable, Theistic Evolution), unless one insists on philosophical materialism as part of the evolution package.

So what additional understanding are we adding, what confusion are we removing, by adding “creationism” to “Intelligent Design,” without specifying what creationism we’re talking about? None. From a communication perspective the additional word serves no positive purpose; it adds contradiction and confusion.

Does Context Help?

But maybe I’ve rushed too quickly to that conclusion. Lots of words have multiple meanings, and we use words like that in almost every sentence without stopping to define which meaning we have in mind. Why not allow using “creationism” without stopping to explain?

The reason we can use words with multiple meanings that way is because context tells us clearly what meaning is intended. If context fails to do that, then we have what our English teachers called a “mistake.” Some of them are called “crash blossoms or “Garden path sentences” (these are mostly for fun, but also to demonstrate the point):

  • McDonald’s Fries the Holy Grail for Potato Farmers
  • Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms
  • The old man the boat.
  • The man returned to his house was happy.
  • The author wrote the novel was likely to be a best seller.
  • Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

Even in these odd sentences, context determines the meaning of the words (eventually). But what context determines the meaning of “creationism” in “Intelligent Design Creationism”?

Typical Contexts for “Intelligent Design Creationism”

Usually the relevant context is one or both of the following:

A. The immediate surrounding context of communication, which is typically that of an ID antagonist. Usually that context points toward something very much like 6.1 Scientific Creationism; which is contradictory to ID’s hypotheses. Adding “creationism” in that sense seriously confuses the meaning of Intelligent Design by introducing a contradictory concept.

B. The larger social context, which of course includes the historical aspect that commenters have incorrectly but repeatedly accused me of ignoring in the prior three posts. This is more ambiguous. More often than not, I think, it tends to point toward something like 6.1 Scientific Creationism, so it is confusing in the same way (A) is. Even if that is not the case, “creationism” adds ambiguity rather than reducing it. It indicates that ID disputes philosophical materialism, but didn’t we all know that already? It’s wasted verbiage at best, like “atheism that denies a knowable God;” but it’s really worse than that because of the wide and ambiguous range of possible meanings it introduces, some of them mutually contradictory.

If speakers and writers were careful to disambiguate “Creationism” when they used it in conjunction with ID, and if they were also careful not to assign it a meaning that contradicts “Intelligent Design,” then the word could be useful for some purposes. But that doesn’t happen very often.

An Open-and-Shut Case

Much of the argument in the past three posts has been about the scientific status of Intelligent Design and its historic connections to creationism. From a communications perspective, though, appending “creationism” to “Intelligent Design” definitely detracts, and this is true regardless of whether ID is science, and regardless of what its historical background may be. Those objections are irrelevant to the communication issue. It’s an open-and-shut case: “Intelligent Design Creationism” is poor communication. Cameron’s question is answered; there is no good justification for using the term that way.

Except…

One final exception to this much be acknowledged. If the speaker really wants to associate ID with 6.1 Scientific Creationism, without signaling that their assumptions and hypotheses differ in many ways, then “Intelligent Design Creationism” is a useful term. Inaccurate, dishonest, manipulative, but useful.

Added at 10:55 am: this aspect of the question, which I should have included here.

Series Navigation (Is ID Creationism?):<<< ID and Creationism: Learning As I GoWho Defines ID? >>>

24 thoughts on ““ID Creationism:” The Communication Question

  1. Creationism is a pseudoscience. Creationists have no predictive theories, they ignore scientific refutations of their claims, and they argue that they are marginalized by a giant conspiracy.

    ID and YEC meet all of these criteria. That’s what people are saying when they call ID a form of creationism.

    Perhaps you are right. Perhaps we should just say that ID is pseudoscience. However, there’s another element that the ID and YEC movements share which is different from, say, the UFO abduction believers or the ghost hunters. ID and YEC are religiously motivated, and they have a primarily religious purpose which has been ruled unconstitutional in the public schools.

  2. DL: in terms of the communication question, my reply to your comment is, so what if they share some characteristics. You and I both believe the sun rises in the morning and cars usually run on gasoline or diesel or electricity and Americans should normally drive on the right and potatoes grow underground and mountains are taller than Death Valley and it’s better to earn money than to steal it. Does that mean we share all beliefs?

  3. How about:

    C. The political context.

    After all, there is ID the “scientific research program”, and there is ID the political movement. To many/most ID critics, the former was dicussed in sufficient detail already in the 90s. ID was unanimously judged unscientific by the scientific community. Since then, ID has not improved in a satisfactory way. So only the latter is left.

    True, the best known ID claims have retreated some. Dembski started his ID career with various pompous “proofs”. At no (single) point is CSI generated in evolution, even when we combine random mutations and natural selection into a sequence, Dembski reasoned in 1997. Algorithms were supposedly categorically incapable of producing CSI. Since then, Dembski has learned what cumulative selection means (had he not concentrated on misrepresenting Weasel, Dembski would have learned it from the Blind watchmaker). Also, Dembski has learned that heurisic algorithms do indeed produce CSI. Alas, he just retreated from proofs to probabilistic argumentation, and to Apparent CSI and Actual CSI from CSI, without ever admitting that his original claims were refuted. Behe is now talking about the Edge of Evolution, without admitting that Darwin’s Black Box got wiped away. Behe’s original argument is not deepened by looking at protein-protein interactions; this is a completely new argument to replace a refuted one. And the problem with both Dembski’s and Behe’s new arguments is that they are just as much hand-waving as the original ones. So the retreats have not been improvements, just more of the same in a slightly altered context.

    During all this time, ID certainly has not done any meaningful research or presented any radical predictions for testing. Hats off to Mike Gene for trying. And no, looking for the “edge of evolution” would not be valid ID research even if Behe’s conclusions on that “edge” were not refuted by the scientific community. What Behe should be looking for is the “edge of design”. But of course ID does nothing of the kind, because limits of designers, the identity of designers, and the very existence of designers is completely irrelevant in ID. Note the radical difference to SETI, which is solely based on the assumption that you are likely to leave radio history if you go hi tech, and which is ultimately aiming to physically uncover that designer before claiming to have produced a “positive”. Or to archaeology, which e.g. can’t escape its duty to explain how limited Bronze Age humans are capable of building pyramids in the middle of the desert. Or to crime scene investigation, which, in spite of its name, is much more interested in typical traces of imperfect human criminals and motives of suspects than CSI.

    To conclude: Tom, are you sure that the “IDC” that so irritates you is referring to ID the scientific research progream instead of ID the political movement? Are you sure that the ID detractors have not ceased to discuss anything else except IDC the political movement, because that’s all they can see in ID and in its persistence. Here, the “C” seems to have quite a bit of validitry — you seem to agree that as a religo-political movement ID is rather synonymous to creationism?

  4. Esko,

    As far as I can see, the scientific/philosophical program is the side of ID that’s alive still, while the political program is pretty much dead. I’m not really involved in it and haven’t written on it much, I just observe it from some distance, and I think all that’s going on is a call for honesty in science education, and a call for academic freedom. I wouldn’t suggest you over-magnify that in your mind.

    But some speakers and writers do enlarge it greatly, and speak of ID/Creationism as they do so. If they would be careful to define their terms (which is all I’ve been asking all along), and specify that ID and Creationism are not the same though some of their political goals have been similar, then they would be free of the error I have been describing in these posts. They might be guilty of over-playing the political aspect of both, but at least they wouldn’t be making the mistake of carelessly considering ID creationism.

  5. As far as I can see, its the funding program that is alive still, and that funding goes to political campaigning, since there is no research to fund. True, after Dover, ID has been pretty much dead (or, at least, directionless) also in the political arena (it never was alive in the scientific arena), but AFAIK it’s doing as good as ever in the media and business arena.


  6. As far as I can see, the scientific/philosophical program is the side of ID that’s alive still…..

    The relationship between scientific findings and philosophical arguments is, I think, worth exploring.

    It seems to me that most of the time philosophical arguments based on some new scientific finding are simply bad arguments. Arguments that go well beyond the conclusions the scientific evidence actually support.

    They are, in other words, too often rationalizations for pet beliefs of the philosopher (I’m sure there are exceptions though, offhand, I can’t think of one).

  7. Tom Gilson wrote:

    From a communication perspective, what does “creationism” contribute to the term, “intelligent design”? Does it promote understanding or confusion?

    Modifiers. You’re doing it wrong.

    It’s not creationism that modifies intelligent design, it’s the other way around. Intelligent design is a particular form of creationism. It’s stealth creationism, where all references to God have been expunged following Edwards v. Aguillard.

    Seen in this light, the expression intelligent-design creationism makes perfect sense, just like young-earth creationism and old-earth creationism do.

    You don’t have to agree with this point to see its logic.

  8. olegt,

    I see its illogic.

    First: where “Intelligent Design” is intended to function as a modifier to creationism in any person’s writing or speaking, that is strictly because that writer or speaker wants to change the meaning of ID to make it appear a variety of creationism; but that is tendentious and incorrect, since ID is not a variety of creationism except as defined in numbers 3.1 or 5 in the original post here.

    Second, grammar is not showing here as a strong suit for you. Consider your three examples without “creationism:”

    “young-earth”
    “old-earth”
    “Intelligent Design”

    The first two are not nouns or noun phrases. Intelligent Design is. Grammatically, the first two are modifiers and require a noun for them to make sense in a sentence. Intelligent Design does not. Intelligent Design has its own grammatical sufficiency and its own definition. By that definition, it is not a variety or subset of creationism and it cannot properly act as a modifier the way “young-earth” and “old-earth” can; because ID is contradictory to, or at least inconsistent with, many typical constructions of “creationism.”

  9. Tom,

    I am not a native speaker of English, so maybe you could explain to me the grammatical structure of the expression intelligent design creationism. If intelligent design is not a modifier in this case, what is it?

    ETA. Speaking of “grammatical sufficiency,” the expressions old earth and young earth certainly exist on their own. If, on the other hand, you are a stickler for punctuation marks, I am totally with you: IDC should be written with a hyphen.


  10. The philosophical arguments are not “based on” ID’s empirical findings.

    I didn’t say they were. ID proponents have made few, if any, of the empirical findings they use in their arguments (in those cases where they aren’t simply presenting an argument from incredulity).


    ….and there is more to the philosophical side of it than ID’s empirical work.

    I didn’t say otherwise.


  11. Philosophy, mathematics, and science all come together here. William Dembski has taken the lead in this through his work on Complex Specified Information. Scientific research follows on that basis.

    The above is taken from Tom’s essay on “Groundwork, Science and Outcomes”.

    I think the semantic discussion became a waste of time long ago. But I AM interested in what scientific research you’re talking about. What scientific research have ID proponents done to support their arguments?

    Or are you just saying that this is what needs to be done (you’ve already admitted, if I recall correctly, that they’ve done very little science)?

    And if that’s the case, what science SHOULD they be doing?

  12. David, you answered my comment:

    The philosophical arguments are not “based on” ID’s empirical findings.
    I didn’t say they were. ID proponents have made few, if any, of the empirical findings they use in their arguments (in those cases where they aren’t simply presenting an argument from incredulity).

    Pardon me for misunderstanding this:

    It seems to me that most of the time philosophical arguments based on some new scientific finding are simply bad arguments. Arguments that go well beyond the conclusions the scientific evidence actually support.

    And if you think it’s all just an argument from incredulity, please feel free to keep thinking that, because while you’re laughing at “arguments from incredulity,” there are some very high-powered thinkers out there doing real work.

    As to “what scientific research,” David, I’ve made reference to it several times in the past week, and it’s been said many times elsewhere. Somewhere in the past several days I wrote that it’s not a large amount. That an admission, to be sure, but it was in response to someone else saying ID was doing none whatsoever. I’m so tired of this back-and-forth, where I identify this work and somebody says there isn’t any being done anywhere, I’m just not going to try again.

    It’s not because I don’t have an answer. It’s because I don’t have any hope that any ID detractor will believe it or will care. And I have reason not to have any hope. You (plural) just don’t listen.


  13. And if you think it’s all just an argument from incredulity….

    I don’t think all their arguments are arguments from incredulity and said as much in the very comment you’re responding to. I do, however, think they’re all bad arguments.


    ….there are some very high-powered thinkers out there doing real work.

    I suppose constructing long complex rationalizations is a lot of work so, yes, I’d say we’ve found something we agree on (the work part anyway, not them being “high-powered” thinkers).


    It’s not because I don’t have an answer. It’s because I don’t have any hope that any ID detractor will believe it or will care. And I have reason not to have any hope. You (plural) just don’t listen.

    We’ve listened. We’ve persisted in disagreeing with your position. And we’ve explained, at some considerable length, over the course of many discussions, why we think you’re mistaken.

  14. Anyway, getting back to what I consider more substantial issues: what do you think the scientific research program should be for ID proponents?

    Or do you see their job as simply to use the discoveries of real working scientists as premises in arguments for an intelligent designer who may or may not (wink, wink) be God . And to then write books about these arguments to sell to people wishing to be reassured that their religious beliefs are not unreasonable?

  15. David, you say,

    We’ve persisted in disagreeing with your position. And we’ve explained, at some considerable length, over the course of many discussions, why we think you’re mistaken.

    And I have done the same with you, so that’s why I think we’re at an impasse.

  16. What should be the scientific research program for ID proponents? We’re drifting off topic, but I’ll follow a ways.

    I think discovering what evolution can be reasonably believed to account for, or not to account for, in origins is a good program. Work on the origin of life is also important. What is often sneered at as “negative science” is actually valid, or potentially so if its findings hold up. ID is not, as you have labeled it, an argument from incredulity, by the way, but an inference to the best explanation.

    Also: continuing work on irreducible complexity. And for a much larger research program, Mike Gene has a lot to offer in The Design Matrix (with a related website here.

    Or do you see their job as simply to use the discoveries of real working scientists as premises in arguments for an intelligent designer who may or may not (wink, wink) be God . And to then write books about these arguments to sell to people wishing to be reassured that their religious beliefs are not unreasonable?

    I can’t think of any good reason for those working on the philosophical side not to use any scientists’ discoveries, can you? And I can’t think of any reason why they shouldn’t write books describing that work, can you? And I can’t see any reason not to present arguments in support of a belief, can you? Wink, wink all you want, but I don’t think you can turn this into something sinister—do you?

  17. ID is not, as you have labeled it, an argument from incredulity, by the way, but an inference to the best explanation.

    I agree. That best explanation is based on empirical, scientific evidence that says life is only known, and has only been repeatably demonstrated and verified (did I use all the necessary adjectives?) to have come from other life forms.

    I parallel this line of thinking to the “it’s a theory, it’s a fact” status of evolution, gravity, etc. I consider the theory of ID to be supported well enough by the fact of ID that I’m willing to give people the room they need to work on generating their predictive tests without being shouted down by others.

  18. Perhaps we should simply follow the rules that have been set down for us and start using the phrase “evolutionary biology atheism” when speaking of Darwinist pseudo-science?

  19. How? By suggesting that you are intelligent enough to evaluate the sequence evidence for yourself?

    No, by suggesting that it’s about evidence, not argument: in effect denying that it needs to be evaluated.

    You say my Hypothesis 1 is not an ID hypothesis. You are destroying your credibility still further, for it is the main hypothesis of Meyer’s recent book.

    Done as described above, but you’re afraid to learn about it.

    Stop with the psychologizing. You’ve done enough and it’s not welcome.

    Not really, they are in other fields, and the hypothesis is completely false.

    You asked for an ID hypothesis and I gave one. You think it’s false. I think it’s still under investigation. So goes the debate, on and on.

    I’m sorry, but this is unintelligible. How can two mutations possibly be required to produce “said mutation,” Tom? Isn’t a mutation a mutation?

    I’m sorry, I meant to say “said variation.”

    But Behe has done nothing empirically to test this non-ID hypothesis. He just wrote a book to bamboozle people like you.

    Where do you get off saying Behe’s hypothesis is a non-ID hypothesis? And why is Seelke’s test not also a real test?

    John, your participation here is turning into a non-productive waste of time. Your position that Meyer’s and Behe’s hypotheses are not ID hypotheses is highly disconnected from reality. Your psychologizing me is annoying. Your claim that science is about evidence, not arguments, is massively short-sighted. Your denial: “It most certainly is not, which you would discover if you examined the evidence for yourself,” of my statement,

    If there are two possible interpretations of a set of data, then science is not just about the evidence (the data). There has to be some interpretation, which is quite commonly about arguments. That is most certainly the case in this debate.

    … is nothing short of ludicrous.

    On that basis and consistent with Item 9 in the Discussion Policy, I’m sending all your comments to moderation before publication from this point on.

  20. Tom, I think you must have in mind a subset of the ID arguments. There are ID arguments compatible with 6, and there are some compatible with 4.1. The fine-tuning ID arguments are compatible with no detectable design from anything occurring after the Big Bang, and I think they’re even compatible with no design at all occurring beyond the Big Bang. Some of the classic scientific creationist arguments are also ID arguments. Paley’s design argument is fully compatible with 6 also.

  21. Jeremy,

    Thanks for the comment. I was thinking of biological ID, not cosmological.

    I don’t think 4.1 is consistent with ID because it is a subset of 4, which specifies that none of the Designer’s intevervention would be detectable by observation even at the time it happened, much less looking back in time. In my view ID entails some “fingerprints of God” on nature, else it is purely theological/philosophical with no empirical aspect to it; and 4 was intended to exclude any empirical detectability.

    I agree there are ID arguments compatible with 6, but ID as a whole does not accept the young earth as an entailment. I suppose you could answer that it does not accept the tenets of 3.1 or 5 as entailments either, and if you did, you would be correct. The way I stated it, 6 could be as consistent with some ID arguments as 3.1 or 5.

    What I intended was really this:

    That a young-earth interpretation of Genesis is to be taken as normative, such that science is expected to find that God created the universe some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, and all scientific indicators of an older universe are either misinterpreted data or some other form of confusion, and each kind or species was a distinct separate act of creation

    I didn’t say it that way the first time, but I should have. ID (generally speaking) does not accept any single interpretation of Genesis as normative over its interpretations of nature.

  22. Tom Gilson: “Thank you, Ray, for helping me to demonstrate my point here. That is, I don’t know whether it’s an unwillingness to see the difference, or an inability, or something else, but certainly you’re not seeing that there is a difference.”

    My apologies for this very late reply (better late than never!).

    Tom’s quote was made in a recently closed thread, in the context of Discovery Institute IDism asserting the concept of “ID” to not have any correspondence with the concept of “God.” Both Tom and I agree that the assertion insults intelligence.

    All biological production theories say something about God. The two greatest lies told in the Creationism-ID v. Darwinism debate is “our theory says nothing about God.”

    The concepts of “Intelligence” and “invisible Creator” are synonyms. Those who dare to deny, that is, those who dare to deny uncomplicated self-evident truth cannot be trusted to communicate complicated scientific truths. If they would lie about the former then they would lie about the latter.

    Ray Martinez, Paleyan designist.

  23. […]

    According to many Victorians we ought not to think that God is like us and it is hardly surprising that Darwin would reuse Hume’s argument. In Chapter Six of Origins Darwin made several failed attempts to reckon with the problem of how his blind process of evolution could create such wonders as the eye. It seemed absurd, but Darwin argued that while it is tempting to see God as the master engineer who crafted complex organs such as the eye, this would make God too much like man.

    […]

    These are but a few of the dozens of such religious arguments Darwin used to prove his new theory. The science was weak but the religion was strong. Like Hume, Darwin knew what God would and would not design.

    […]

    The Contradiction of Darwin’s Anthropomorphic Warning
    http://darwins-god.blogspot.com/2009/10/contradiction-of-darwins.html

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