Even though Intelligent Design’s moment in the public spotlight seems to have passed, what follows is a clarification of the I.D. position from the Winter 2008 edition of Salvo, a magazine that mostly retreads old-school Christian apologetics.
It’s not that I buy into so-called I.D. I have been persuaded of an evolutionary view through the work of Dr. Francis C. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, and oddly enough, a convinced Christian who came to faith through reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Everyone, of any point of view, should read Collins’ book The Language of God.
But for basic clarity and fairness, the I.D. position needs to be understood on its own terms, not as thinly veiled creationism.
Here are three points that Salvo made, worth understanding if you care about understanding the debate:
What I.D. is Not
“I.D. Is Creationism:” You’ve no doubt heard this one numerous times. In reality, this is flat-out false. The average creationist believes in a young earth, biblical literalism, and the complete absence of evidence for evolutionary processes. The I.D. proponent, on the other hand, rejects — or at the very least suspends speculation on — all three of these convictions, maintaining only that there are reasons to conclude that life was designed; how it was designed or by whom both lie beyond the I.D. theorist’s field of inquiry.
“The Opponents of I.D. Are Evolutionists:” Wrong again. It is primarily the scientific naturalist — or Darwinist — with whom I.D. advocates take issue. The difference? Scientific naturalism is a philosophical position that assumes an entirely materialistic origin to the universe — a faith claim for which Darwinists have no proof whatsoever — while evolutionary theory is a multifaceted set of assertions that attempts to account for the present diversity of life here on Earth, some specific aspects of which most I.D. scientists accept as fact.
“I.D. Is a ‘God of the Gaps’ Theory:” The contention here is that I.D. merely offers holes in evolutionary theory as evidence for God. Once again, this is a gross mischaracterization. The science of I.D. is not simply to study gaps in evolution but to study products of design — to examine biological phenomena to see whether they exhibit the characteristics of design beyond a shadow of a doubt. I.D. scientists only appeal to an intelligent designer because that is where their research points. It is absolutely not a default position.
That second-to-last sentence sounds disengenuous. I imagine there are not many in the I.D. movement who had no inkling of a designer prior to their research. That being said, researchers and scientists frequently begin with assumptions.
The bigger point, I think, is that there is a big difference between young-earth creationists and Intelligent-Design proponents.
I bet if the I.D. proponents had made their approach through philosophy and the history of ideas, rather than science, and allowed their work to gain credibility on the university level and then trickle down, in its own way, to secondary education, they might have gotten further.
After all, as the folks at Salvo said, “Scientific naturalism is a philosophical position….”
And even Collins believes God kicked it all off; the award-winning physicist Paul Davies describes something like God behind the beginning of the universe; John Polkinghorne is an acclaimed physicist who happens to be an Anglican priest, too.
-Colin Foote Burch