I have not discussed Intelligent Design (ID) on this blog outside of a few passing comments. Given that this is a blog about evangelicals and evolution, I’m sure some of you found this to be a puzzling omission, somewhat like discussing evangelicals and American politics without once mentioning Republicans. But evangelicals who do not support ID need to tread very, very carefully when stepping into the ID minefield, since voicing opposition to ID can result in being labeled a compromiser, a materialist, or even a Darwinbot.
I suspect that public awareness of ID will increase significantly in the next few months. The ID movie Expelled will be released in February 2008, and media coverage of the movement, as well as public debate on the merits of ID, may exceed the coverage and debate that surrounded the 2005 Dover trial. Last week PBS aired Judgment Day, its documentary of the trial, and the public discussion has started to heat up.
So the time is probably right for me to provide some initial thoughts on ID. I will simply make some brief statements describing my views. Comprehensive arguments supporting these statements will need to wait for future posts.
A) Statements about the ID
(Note: See my What does Evolution Mean? post for an explanation of the various definitions of evolution that I use below (eg. E3, and E4)).
1. Design and Evolution are not necessarily incompatible
Acceptance of “design” does not necessitate a rejection of evolution, nor vice-versa. Many thoughtful people accept both design and evolution. There are those who agree with the E4 definition of evolution (that evolutionary mechanisms offer a complete physical explanation for the development of life), but still see strong evidence for design in the universe. Other’s, (eg. Michael Behe and Stephen Jones), support the E3 definition for evolution (ie. common descent), but also strongly support ID. (See here http://telicthoughts.com/see-what-they-see/ for one vocal ID proponent’s comments on the compatibility of design and evolution).
2. ID movement: Opposing evolution seems to be the primary objective
Notwithstanding #1 above, it seems to me that the primary objective of most ID arguments, articles, websites, and organizations is to disseminate anti-evolution propaganda. ID is primarily a weapon used to demonstrate that biological evolution is false; positive conclusions seem secondary.
I reject this version of ID. I not only accept the evidence for evolution (both E3 and E4), but also disagree with the ID statement that design provides a better explanation for the development of life on earth. First, design and evolution are not competing origin alternatives. Second, evolution provides an excellent physical explanation for the development of life on earth.
3. Anti-ID movement: Promoting a Purposeless Universe
On the other hand, it seems that the primary objective of most ID opponents is the promotion of a purposeless universe. Anti-design arguments are used as weapons against theism in general, and Christianity in particular. There certainly are vocal ID opponents that are also Christians (eg. Ken Miller) but these voices are often drowned out by the “no design – no purpose” mantra.
I reject this type of opposition to ID. The declaration that design and purpose are logically impossible given the randomness inherent in evolution is a metaphysical statement, not a scientific statement. I also claim that this metaphysical statement is completely wrong.
4. Intelligent Design is not identical to Creationism
Intelligent Design is not identical to Creationism (at least the Creationism of the “Young Earth (YEC)” and “Flood Geology” varieties). The two are often conflated leading ID to be referred to derogatorily as Intelligent Design Creationism. I do not believe this is fair since most ID proponents do not come from a YEC heritage, do not agree with YEC ideas, and do not participate in dishonest science like the RATE project.
It is true that ID has welcomed YEC support, has turned a blind eye to gross flaws in YEC science, and has even allowed “creationism” to evolve into “intelligent design” through the transitional “cdesign proponentsists” form (see this post for an explanation). So non-specialist observers can be forgiven for equating the two. But I maintain they are not the same. I think this note from Michael Roberts to the ASA mailing list says it best.
“ID may not be an evolved version of YEC, but many of its genes have been spliced in from YEC.”5. Attempts to Detect Design will Fail
I provisionally claim that attempts to scientifically detect “design” within the universe will be a failure. Notice what I am not denying that ID can ever make scientific claims. I am simply stating that I suspect their attempts to demonstrate design scientifically will not be successful.
B) An Evangelical Approach to ID
1. Christians should Emphasize Purpose rather the Design
Design is a tricky word, and depending on the definition, I could agree that God designed the universe. However, I think that God’s design, his plans, his processes, and his purposes, are far beyond anything we can imagine let alone expect. They do not fit our concept of design, a concept coloured by modern engineering. But God is not an engineer, and design may be an unhelpful term in defining the relationship between Creator and creation. I much prefer the word purpose. The God revealed most fully in Jesus Christ, has a purpose for the universe and for humanity. Proclaiming this purpose is our mandate.
Also note, it is clear that God has a purpose for the universe, but I do not believe this is equivalent to saying that there is purpose (or design) inherent in the universe.
2. ID: Theologically Dangerous?
My primary discomfort with the ID movement, however, is theological. It seems to elevate natural theology above God’s revelation in the incarnation and his written word. Why are we still searching for evidence of a designer? Do we not trust God or the witnesses to the resurrection? Why, like Thomas needed to see the scars in Jesus’ hands, must we see proof of God’s fingerprints in creation?
I am not saying that we should ignore God’s revelation in creation. It is part of the coherent package of knowledge that supports our Christian faith. However, it is not the foundation of our faith or knowledge. Any attempt to make natural theology the foundation of our faith is dangerous.
C) So where do I stand?
It is clear that I do not identify with the ID movement. On the other hand, I share a faith in Jesus Christ with many, many ID proponents. I also disagree with the majority of ID opponents that claim meaning is simply what we make of it, and that there is no overall purpose for creation. In a debate so thoroughly polarized, where does my view fit? Maybe like Owen Gingerich, I should describe my position as intelligent design (small I, small d) rather than identifying with the ID movement itself. However, I’m uncomfortable with even this. In fact, I’d prefer to wear the label Creationist (albeit an Evolutionary Creationist) rather than Intelligent Design Proponent. At least with creation, I am identifying with a concept that is thoroughly biblical.