I have written an e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which is free to anyone. To download that book, in several formats, go here.
Creative Commons License
The posts in this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. In other words, you can copy and use this material, as long as you aren't making money from it, and as long as you give me credit.

Monday, July 06, 2009

More on the Kitzmiller Intelligent Design case, and on Intelligent Design

"Intelligent Design," like most phrases, means more than one thing.

A person who believes in intelligent design (id, in lower-case italics, for this post) believes that some entity designed some or all of the various properties of, and entities in the universe. For example, one might believe that a supernatural being designed the properties of atoms, such as Carbon. This supernatural being might or might not be the God of Christianity and Judaism. All people I would classify as Christians believe in id. There are certainly great differences in details -- some believe that God designed the universe in such a way that it would naturally emerge in its present form from the Big Bang, others believe that God specially designed and created each type of living organism. Some believe that the earth is only a few thousands of years old, others that it is much older than that. Some believe that God used seemingly random processes to bring about His purposes, some do not. Persons who believe in id do not belong to any particular organization, and do not generally act in concert. However, they are united in believing that neither the universe, nor humans, are here as the result of purposeless chance.

Another meaning of the term is the Intelligent Design Movement (ID). ID adherents do have a central organization, the Discovery Institute. They subscribe to id, but also have more specific beliefs, as follows:
1. It is possible to demonstrate supernatural design scientifically.
2. Intelligent Design should be taught in the public schools, in science classes.
3. Teaching Intelligent Design in public school science classes is an effective way for Christians to combat atheism.
All who are in the ID movement subscribe to id.

Many Christians, some of them scientists, some of them theologians, believe in id, but disagree with ID. They do not subscribe to any of the 3 specific beliefs listed above. For one thing, some of them they may believe that the Bible, itself, indicates that specific belief 1 is incorrect. For another, they see that the protection the US Constitution provides against state sponsorship of any particular religious belief is important, and that implementing specific belief 2 would violate that. The ID movement often seems to be deceptive, in that it attempts to identify itself with young-earth creationism, although the two are not the same thing. It also seems to be deceptive, in that, although specific belief 3 is well-documented, and spoken of as a strategy by leaders of the ID movement, they sometimes deny it, at least when in court.

The Kitzmiller case, although not tried by the US Supreme Court, rejected an attempt to carry out specific belief 2.

A blog I subscribe to, by a Christian author, discussed the deliberate deception, while under oath, of an official of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, an organization claiming to be Christian, and closely allied with the Discovery Institute. You can read that discussion here.

Thanks for reading.


Keetha Broyles said...

Thank you for these posts about the difference between id and ID. You put your finger RIGHT ON the things that just drive me nuts about ID and you said it far better 'n I coulda. :-)

At a recent family reunion, a cousin of mine was going on and on with what she thought was "scientific proof" of ID, none of which was either scientific or proof. She had made up her mind and was not about to be confused with facts - - - so I got up and began clearing tables so that I wouldn't "seethe" over on her. :-)

Martin LaBar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin LaBar said...


Well, there's a lot of that (made up one's mind already) on many sides of many issues.

You may want to look at my post on the differences between ID and Young-Earth Creationism. (Last post in the list of Significant Posts, on the right of my blog.)

Michael said...

Sir, you characterization of ID adherents as having the specific belief that “It is possible to demonstrate supernatural design scientifically” is false. There’s a reason Intelligent Design is known as ID and not SD. It doesn’t pit supernatural causes against natural causes. It pits intelligent causes against undirected natural causes.

Is the intelligent cause inside or outside of nature? That’s a separate question as to whether an intelligent cause has acted within nature.

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you for reading, and your comment, Michael. I quote from the Discovery Institute's "Science Education Policy" web page, on this date:
"Although Discovery Institute does not advocate requiring the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, it does believe there is nothing unconstitutional about voluntarily discussing the scientific theory of design in the classroom. In addition, the Institute opposes efforts to persecute individual teachers who may wish to discuss the scientific debate over design in an objective and pedagogically appropriate manner."

The first clause is new to me, and, apparently, is a change of direction, probably because of the Kitzmiller case, in part. The rest of it indicates that the Discovery Institute believes that a "scientific debate" over design is possible. I think that shows that they, in fact, do have and advocate the belief that you quoted from my post in your comment.

Thanks again.

Michael said...

It’s the word “supernatural” that caught my eye to begin with. To characterize the designer as supernatural, at this point, seems to be outside of the realm of science. I don’t know of any ID proponents that are arguing for a supernatural designer as determined by science. Most certainly many of them do believe that the designer is supernatural, but they come to that decision via other disciplines. Just as theistic evolutionist certainly don’t base their belief in God-directed evolution on pure science, it seems unfair to characterize ID as a religious endeavor simply because of its adherents religious beliefs. Can one not study design without studying the designer?

Martin LaBar said...

The problem is not with the religious beliefs, but with a stated goal, which is, as I said in the previous comment, to argue that it's legitimate to study what you correctly say is "outside the realm of science" in science classes.

See this Wikipedia article on the Wedge strategy, and the document, from the Discovery Institute, which is the first footnote in the article. If that doesn't set forth a "religious endeavor," I don't know what one is.

Thanks for your comment.

Michael said...

There’s still a distinction here that I believe is glossed over. One may have an agenda and employ a certain agent in achieving desired goals. But we can never automatically equate the agenda and the agent (Of course, you could dislike both, e.g., and lock up the murderer and ban his gun). Discovery Institute uses ID as an agent, with the agenda of liberating certain fields from a philosophy they find harmful. And I’ll concede the point that this may be the most animating principle of ID (if not, at least, the most popular). But ID must also be judged on its own merits (just as evolution must be judged apart from any atheistic or materialistic agenda some of its proponents might hold).

Discovery Institute engaging in a “religious endeavor?” Sure. ID, itself a religious endeavor? Not inherently. If ID has any life behind it, it will have to begin offering positive insight into scientific endeavors. If it is to succeed, I’d hope it be on those grounds, for it is on those grounds that it bills itself regardless of those who want to use it for other ends.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Michael.

I agree that, as you say, if the ID movement wants to accomplish much, it will need to put out some good science. So far, it really hasn't, as no less than Michael Behe has agreed.

I personally don't think that such an endeavor, that is, putting forth scientific proof that there is a designer, is possible. Hebrews 11:3 says that such things are comprehended by faith, implying, to me, that they can't be comprehended in other ways. The existence of God has eluded scientific proof for centuries, and I don't see that changing. I don't see such a proof (or disproof, either) as being within the realm of science. I could, of course, be wrong about this.

Lest there be any doubt, I do believe in God, and that God caused things to be the way they are now, and that he designed things so that they would come to be as they are now. For example, I believe that he endowed Carbon atoms with certain properties that make them suitable to be an essential ingredient in most of the molecules essential to living things. I believe such things, but I can't prove them.

Thanks for your valuable comments.

Michael said...

It appears that we just disagree that there is a difference in exploring design, and setting out to prove that there is a designer.

I am not much of a fan of efforts to “prove” that God exists or to extrapolate exactly what type of being he must be based on things that exist. Surely natural theology takes on this task, but ID (regardless of philosophical or religious motivations of its proponents) is directed at something else. But we’ve been around on this issue already, so I'll leave it be.

But I did check out the passage that you referenced – Hebrews 11:3. The passage seems to be concerned with how things came to be, that is, there is now something rather than nothing because God spoke such things into existence. It doesn’t say anything about the nature of created things as they exist, but only comments on how such things came to exist. Because we must faith that God spoke things into existence from nothing, how does it follow that we can only rely on faith in studying the nature of these things?

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks again, Michael.

I don't think it does follow that we are to "only rely on faith to study the nature of these things," and if I said, or implied, that, I didn't mean to.

As I see it, we even have some Biblical mandate to study their nature, both as stewards of what God has created, and which has come to be, and because God reveals Himself (to those who believe in His existence) through nature, in part.

As you say, we seem to differ on what may be accomplished in such study. I don't believe that it is possible to prove the existence of God to unbelievers through such study, and part of that impossibility is that we can't prove that things were designed, in some sense, to be the way that they were. I recognize that other people disagree with me here, but, so far, the evidence of history seems to be on my side. I would be most happy to be shown to be wrong. It would, I suppose, make evangelism a lot easier.