Intelligent Design 101 - Is ID religious Creationism in disguise?
August 26, 12:19 PMMethodist ExaminerJames-Michael Smith
"Is intelligent design a cleverly disguised form of scientific creationism?"
This is perhaps the most common objection to Intelligent Design that one encounters among its critics. Indeed, this was the precise reason given by Judge Jones in order to justify his ruling in the famous Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District case in Pennsylvania a few years ago that ID could not be taught in public school classrooms.
But while some (including myself) would agree that ID should not be taught yet in public science classes, the reason it shouldn't be taught which was given by Jones, and which is a common talking point among those who oppose ID in general is quite flawed.
ID theorist William Dembski seeks to expose this fallacy in the opening chapters of what is perhaps the best philosophical defense of the validity of the ID approach in print, "The Design Revolution":
Intelligent design needs to be distinguished from creation science, or scientific creationism. The most obvious difference is that scientific creationism has prior religious commitments whereas intelligent design does not.
Scientific creationism is committed to two religious presuppositions and interprets the data of science to fit those presuppositions. Intelligent design, by contrast, has no prior religious commitments and interprets the data of science on generally accepted scientific principles. In particular, intelligent design does not depend on the biblical account of creation. The two presuppositions of scientific creationism are as follows:
• There exists a supernatural agent who creates and orders the world.
• The biblical account of creation recorded in Genesis is scientifically accurate.
The supernatural agent presupposed by scientific creationism is usually understood as the transcendent, personal God of the well-known monotheistic religions, specifically Christianity. This God is said to create the world out of nothing (i.e., without the use of preexisting materials). Moreover, the sequence of events by which this God creates is said to parallel the biblical record.
By contrast, intelligent design nowhere attempts to identify the intelligent cause responsible for the design in nature, nor does it prescribe in advance the sequence of events by which this intelligent cause had to act.
Besides differing in their presuppositions, intelligent design and scientific creationism differ in their propositional content and method of inquiry. Intelligent design begins with data that scientists observe in the laboratory and nature, identifies in them patterns known to signal intelligent causes and thereby ascertains whether a phenomenon was designed. For design theorists, the conclusion of design constitutes an inference from data, not a deduction from religious authority.
In addition, the propositional content of intelligent design differs significantly from that of scientific creationism. Scientific creationism is committed to the following propositions:
SC1: There was a sudden creation of the
universe, energy and life from nothing.
Intelligent design, on the other hand, is committed to the following propositions:
ID1: Specified complexity and irreducible
complexity are reliable indicators or hallmarks of design.
A comparison of these two lists shows that intelligent design and scientific creationism differ markedly in content.
Intelligent design is modest in what it attributes to the designing intelligence responsible for the specified complexity in nature. For instance, design theorists recognize that the nature, moral character and purposes of this intelligence lie beyond the competence of science and must be left to religion and philosophy. Intelligent design, as a scientific theory, is distinct from a theological doctrine of creation. Creation presupposes a creator who originates the world and all its materials. Intelligent design only attempts to explain the arrangement of materials within an already given world. Design theorists argue that certain arrangements of matter, especially in biological systems, clearly signal a designing intelligence.
Besides presupposing a supernatural agent, scientific creationism also presupposes the scientific accuracy of the biblical account of creation. Proponents of scientific creationism treat the opening chapters of Genesis as a scientific text and thus argue for a literal six-day creation, the existence of a historical Adam and Eve, a literal Garden of Eden, a catastrophic worldwide flood and so on. Scientific creationism takes the biblical account of creation in Genesis as its starting point and then attempts to match the data of nature to the biblical account.
Intelligent design, by contrast, starts with the data of nature and from there argues that an intelligent cause is responsible for the specified complexity in nature. Moreover, in making such an argument, intelligent design relies not on narrowly held prior assumptions but on reliable methods developed within the scientific community for discriminating designed from undesigned structures. Scientific creationism’s reliance on narrowly held prior assumptions undercuts its status as a scientific theory. Intelligent design’s reliance on widely accepted scientific principles, on the other hand, ensures its legitimacy as a scientific theory.
These differences between intelligent design and scientific creationism have significant legal implications for advancing intelligent design in the public square. In formulating its position on scientific creationism in Edwards v. Aguillard, the Supreme Court cited the District Court in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. According to the Supreme Court, scientific creationism is not just similar to the Genesis account of creation but is in fact identical to it and is parallel to no other creation story. Because scientific creationism corresponds point for point with the creation and flood narratives in Genesis, the Supreme Court found scientific creationism to be a religious doctrine and not a scientific theory.
Intelligent design, by contrast, is free from such charges of religious entanglement. Intelligent design is not scientific creationism cloaked in newer and more sophisticated terminology. Intelligent design shares none of scientific creationism’s religious commitments. Scientific creationism describes the origin of the universe, its duration, the mechanisms responsible for geological formations, the limits to evolutionary change and the beginnings of humanity, all the while conforming its account of creation to the first chapters of Genesis. In contrast, intelligent design makes no claims about the origin or duration of the universe, is not committed to flood geology, can accommodate any degree of evolutionary change, does not prejudge how human beings arose and does not specify in advance how a designing intelligence brought the first organisms into being.
Consequently, it is mistaken and unfair to confuse intelligent design with scientific creationism. Intelligent design is a strictly scientific theory devoid of religious commitments. Whereas the creator underlying scientific creationism conforms to a strict, literalist interpretation of the Bible, the designer underlying intelligent design need not even be a deity. To be sure, the designer is compatible with the creator-God of the world’s major monotheistic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But the designer is also compatible with the watchmaker-God of the deists, the Demiurge of Plato’s Timaeus and the divine reason (i.e., logos spermatikos) of the ancient Stoics.
One can even take an agnostic view about the designer, treating specified complexity as a brute fact inherently unexplainable in terms of chance and necessity. Unlike scientific creationism, intelligent design does not prejudge such questions as Who is the designer? or How does the designer go about designing and building things?
[From: William A. Dembski, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 41ff. Emphasis added]
Any fair reading of actual ID theory should recognize the difference between ID and Creationism. Those who refuse to recognize this clear distinction are either ignorant of what ID actually claims or intellectually dishonest in attempting to lump it together with Creationism. Hopefully it is the former.
Of course, intellectual dishonesty has been found on both sides of the debate and any proponent of ID must recognize that many seeking to promote ID have themselves (including Dembski on occasion!) joined it with their religious or political agendas. This is unfortunate of course, but it should not obscure the fact that at the level of actual claims, ID and Creationism are quite different animals.
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