Friday, March 18, 2016

From Lennox's God's Undertaker: Intelligent Design, Creationism, and Conceptual Confusions

At least some of the heat results from the fact that the term ‘intelligent design’ appears to convey to many people a relatively recent, crypto-creationist, anti-scientific attitude that is chiefly focussed on attacking evolutionary biology. This means that the term ‘intelligent design’ has subtly changed its meaning, bringing with it the danger that serious debate will be hijacked as a result.

Now ‘intelligent design’ strikes some as a curious expression, since usually we think of design as the result of intelligence – the adjective is therefore redundant. If we therefore simply replace the phrase with ‘design’ or ‘intelligent causation’ then we are speaking of a very respectable notion in the history of thought. For the notion that there is an intelligent cause behind the universe, far from being recent, is as ancient as philosophy and religion themselves. Secondly, before we address the question whether intelligent design is crypto-creationism we need to avoid another potential misunderstanding by considering the meaning of the term ‘creationism’ itself. For its meaning has changed as well. ‘Creationism’ used to denote simply the belief that there was a Creator. However, it has now come to mean not only belief in a Creator but also a commitment to a whole additional raft of ideas by far the most dominant of which is a particular interpretation of Genesis which holds that the earth is only a few thousand years old. This mutation in the meaning of ‘creationism’ or ‘creationist’ has had three very unfortunate effects. First of all it polarizes the discussion and gives an apparently soft target to those who reject out of hand any notion of intelligent causation in the universe. Secondly, it fails to do justice to the fact that there is a wide divergence of opinion on the interpretation of the Genesis account even among those Christian thinkers who ascribe final authority to the biblical record. Finally, it obscures the(original) purpose of using the term ‘intelligent design’, which is to make a very important distinction between the recognition of design and the identification of the designer. These are different questions. The second of them is essentially theological and agreed by most to be outside the provenance of science. The point of making the distinction is to clear the way to asking whether there is any way in which science can help us with the answer to the first question. It is therefore unfortunate that this distinction between two radically different questions is constantly obscured by the accusation that  intelligent design’ is shorthand for ‘crypto-creationism’ 


jdhuey said...

This post is like a funhouse mirror that takes a set of facts and distorts them.

If at some point in the past (when exactly?) the term Creationism had a different meaning then the only people responsible for the coopting the term are the Creationists themselves. Creation Science, Scientific Creationism, Creation Science Museum, Creation Science Institute, etc. are the titles that they picked for themselves.

Also, the term Intelligent Design may have been used to simply refer to theistic creation but the term was definitely 'borrowed' by the creationists to try and sneak God into the classroom.

Science has already answered the first question about the 'recognition of design': evolution by means of natural selection produces adaptations that give the appearance of design but, in reality, there is no design before the fact.

As the post points out, the identification of the designer (in fact, the very concept of a designer) is a religious idea and should not be forced into a science classroom.

Victor Reppert said...

The fact that a certain type of creationist has co-opted to word "creationist" does not mean that they own the word.