Is intelligent design a dishonest front for creationism?

Responding to two exchanges in the thread, “Tyrannical atheism,” Ken Hechtman, VFR’s leftist reader in Canada, writes:

Let me try to explain why Jack R. and your anonymous reader don’t accept intelligent design as a good-faith belief. Most Darwinians don’t. We don’t take it at face value because we don’t believe its original proponents took it at face value. We generally believe intelligent design is just a rebranding of Genesis done in order to get it back into biology class. Just to be clear, I’m not accusing anybody here of anything. I’m just telling you the story the way we tell it to ourselves:

Before the 1990s, you never heard the words “intelligent design.” Creationists originally spoke directly about “creation” or “Genesis.” The language in this Tennessee state law is typical:

The Tennessee law stated, “Any biology textbook used for teaching in the public schools, which expresses an opinion of, or relates a theory about origins or creation of man and his world shall [give] … an equal amount of emphasis on … the Genesis account in the Bible.”

That law was struck down in 1975 by a U.S. appeals court in Daniel v. Waters.

That was the first specifically anti-creation (as opposed to simply pro-evolution) court ruling.

Then, you began to hear the term “Creation Science” and it almost always meant “young earth” creation. It was still the literal interpretation of Genesis but without referring to Genesis by name or relying on it as an authority. There were two landmark court cases on creation science, one in 1981, and the second, Edwards v. Aguillard, in 1987.

I remember the first one because the star witnesses for the two sides, Stephen Jay Gould and Duane Gish, came to speak in Montreal. Anyway, in 1987 there was a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Edwards case that “creation science” wasn’t science and therefore couldn’t be taught in science class.

Only after that did we begin to hear about “intelligent design,” in textbooks like “Of Pandas and People.” The original draft of “Of Pandas and People” was completed in 1987 as a creation science textbook, but due to the Edwards ruling, it couldn’t be sold that way. Wikipedia reports:

The outcome of the case prompted significant editorial changes to the book…. In a new draft of Pandas, approximately 150 uses of the root word “creation,” such as “creationism” and “creationist,” were systematically changed to refer to intelligent design, The definition remained essentially the same, with “intelligent design” substituted for “creation,” and “intelligent creator” changed to “intelligent agency.”

To us, the timeline is the giveaway. Nobody tried to get old-earth intelligent design taught in schools while it was still legal to teach Genesis. You’d think an old-earth IDer would have equally strong objections to teaching the Garden of Eden and the Flood in science class as he would to teaching Darwin. But we never heard them at the time.

LA replies:

I was not aware of this background. It might partly help explain my main problem with the intelligent design movement, their position that ID is a scientific theory. It is obviously not a scientific theory, because it presents no explanation of how life evolved, beyond the general assertion that various organic structures are the result of design. What this designing agency is, how the design manifests, how it makes things happen in life, is not offered. As I’ve said over and over, ID at its core is a rational, evidence-based argument that design is present in life. It is a rational criticism of Darwinism’s scientific but flawed claim that all life evolved through random genetic mutation and natural selection. But ID is not science itself; or, rather, it is not a scientific theory. It is valid science in the same sense that the famed astrophysicist Fred Hoyle’s demonstration that life couldn’t have spontaneously organized out of non-life is valid science; that is, it is scientific criticism of a scientific theory, but it is not itself a scientific theory. (And by the way, I haven’t noticed that Fred Hoyle was attacked as a person sneakily advancing “blind faith” under the cover of science, an indication that the “blind faith” charge is used opportunistically by the Darwinians against culturally disliked and vulnerable targets.) The claim that ID is a scientific theory makes the Id’ers look odd and gives the Darwinians their best weapon again them. Also it disastrously makes ID the issue, rather than Darwinism. My position is that critics of Darwinism should stick to showing the falsity of Darwinism and not make their criticism of Darwin hinge on some theory of their own which isn’t even a theory. (For example, in discussions of this topic, I occasionally state—as how could I not?—my own thoughts, beliefs, intuitions, speculations, on how evolution occurred. But my argument about the falsity of Darwinism is not dependent on those beliefs and speculations. My focus remains the failure and falsity of Darwinism in its own terms.) The ID movement’s wrong-headed and tendentious claim that they have a scientific theory of evolution might be partly explained if it were the case, as Mr. Hechtman argues, that ID is repackaged creationism.

However, even if Mr. Hechtman were correct that creationists picked up on ID in order to have a more acceptable way of proposing the belief in divine creation, that would not mean that the ID movement is nothing but creationism. The major ID books, such as Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, cannot be dismissed as creationist books with the phrase “intelligent design” pasted in over the word “divine creator.” They argue and demonstrate that organic structures are the result of design.

In effect, Mr. Hechtman has constructed a false history according to which a couple of decades ago the only opposition to Darwinism was creationism, and creationism kept being defeated in the courts, so creationists adopted the front of ID. In reality there have been intelligent, non-religious writings criticizing Darwinism for a long time. I’ve often mentioned the authors who influenced me, such as Arthur Koestler and Francis Hitching. While I don’t know the exact genesis of the ID movement, intelligent design was clearly a new stage in the development of the long-existing, intellectual anti-Darwin school; and the creationists then picked up ID as well. So ID cannot be reduced to creationism.

It is also false that intelligent design, as Mr. Hechtman puts it, is “just a rebranding of Genesis done in order to get it back into biology class,” since there are lots of creationists who do not call their beliefs ID. They call their beliefs … creationism. They’re not at all shy about being creationists. The word “rebranded” suggests that the entire creationist movement reincarnated itself as ID. So it remains the case that creationism, which bases itself in the Bible, is one thing, and ID, which bases itself in the evidence of design and the impossibility of various biological innovations having come into existence by innumerable tiny random changes naturally selected, is another. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that individual ID’ers are not religious believers, and it doesn’t mean that creationist don’t use ID arguments. But creationism and ID are two distinct arguments, and the Darwinians’ constant assertion that they are the same argument (made repeatedly by Jerry Coyne in Why Darwinism is True, for example) shows the utmost of bad faith. It is the behavior of intellectual bullies.

Further, if it were the case that under our current liberal revolutionary order, which unconstitutionally gives federal courts power over what public schools can teach and falsely defines establishment of religion as any religious expression, some creationists did pick up on ID as a more scientific, and hence more constitutionally acceptable alternative to Darwinism, what would be wrong with that? The creationists thought that they were getting with the program,—that is, the program of our scientific, liberal, unconstutionally centralized political order—and instead they found themselves being attacked once again.

Finally, whatever my criticisms of the ID movement, and whatever the role of creationists in the ID movement, the central ID argument remains valid: life exhibits evidence of design. To attack that rational, and, indeed, self-evidently true, idea as nothing but superstition and blind faith is a mark of tyrannical atheism, which through its unrelenting use of smear tactics seeks to silence and expel all other views.

- end of initial entry -

John Hagan writes:

Your mention of Fred Hoyle brings back an incident from my college years involving a paper I wrote using Hoyle and the physicist David Bohm to show intention and direction in creation, and the backlash it caused. I was doing a work-study job at the college science library when a graduate student in physics saw my material and preceded to start screaming that he was sick of seeing this kind of garbage being passed off as science.

He actually took his hand and struck the desk I was sitting at. I reminded him we were in a university library, not a barroom, and to take his anger outside. He was a young tyrant in the making.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 26, 2009 02:41 PM | Send

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