In my earlier post this morning I covered definitions of creationism quite thoroughly but I didn’t include a definition of Intelligent Design. There was one in the post I wrote last Sunday, but not all readers would know that. I wrote:
ID 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.
That’s fairly close to the definition used by the Discovery Institute. I’ve been amused to see scorn heaped on me at Panda’s Thumb for following the DI line. To them I’m some kind of brainless zombie unable to think for myself about what ID is or what it is worth. I can only parrot what I’ve been instructed to say; I’ve been duped into thinking DI has the goods on what Intelligent Design is all about; I should have realized that others, far more scientific than they, had figured out the real story, and that everything from the DI was a dishonest hoax.
But this is a continuation of a previous post on the communication question, and whether “creationism” appended to “ID” helps us understand what ID really is. I argued that it confuses communication rather than clarifying it, because of ambiguities and contradictions between different versions of creationism (defined in that post) and ID (belatedly defined here). There is no denying those discrepancies, and I closed that last post by saying it’s an open-and-shut case against those who would carelessly tag ID as creationism.
But there is one last piece of business to finish: am I the mindless idiot I am represented to be at Panda’s Thumb, in accepting what the DI says about ID? I would certainly prefer that not be true, but is it?
The problem with the DI and their view of ID seems to be (according to PT and others who think similarly) that ID is all fluff and nonsense, there’s no reality to it, there’s no science to it, and it’s all just posing and PR instead. Let’s suppose that’s true, for argument’s sake. Does that mean ID antagonists, who understand what’s really going on in Intelligent Design, own the definition for ID, and can correct the rest of our opinions as to what it really denotes?
Consider a parallel case, one in which almost everyone would agree that the word means nothing real: voodoo. I don’t think there is any reality to claims of supernatural power through voodoo, and I doubt most people involved in the ID/creationism debate do either. Suppose I go to some voodoo practitioner and ask him to define voodoo for me; and suppose then I go to my blog and say, “This is how voodoo is defined.” Am I being a mindless zombie to say so? (Careful how you answer: if mindless zombies really exist, then maybe voodoo really exists! 😉 Let’s take it in the metaphorical sense instead.). No, that would not be foolish for me to do; the practitioner’s definition of voodoo has real authority.
As an outsider I can evaluate voodoo’s reality, but in order to do so, I have to evaluate it according to some definition; I can’t change the definition and then evaluate it, because then I am evaluating something other than the voodoo that the practitioner told me about. The practitioner can define the term.
That’s an extreme case of an obvious fake. Some readers here consider ID an obvious fake, but even for them, the definition of ID rightly comes from its practitioners.
The other charge that flies around this debate is that the DI keeps changing the definition of ID, so that it’s a moving target. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see evidence of this over the past ten to twelve years. This is still a young field, so that’s a relatively long period of stability. My own very direct involvement goes back only about five years, and in that period I am quite sure it has not been a moving target.
That doesn’t mean it has to remain static forever. Bradley Monton in his book Seeking God In Science has proposed a refinement of ID’s definition. He has taken a sensible route to it: Does the DI’s definition really convey what the DI intends it to convey, or can the definition be improved to better communicate what it is intended to communicate? People can learn along the way. But there’s nothing wrong with looking to the chief practitioners of ID to define what they mean by ID.
Here’s another way of looking at it. If some ID antagonist says, “I don’t believe in ID creationism,” the DI could easily say, “I don’t either. Whatever ID creationism is, it’s something we’re not promoting or practicing here. If you try to re-define our terms, you’re going to end up criticizing something we’re not doing. Why would you want to waste your time on that?”
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