Debating Darwin and Design: Science or Creationism? (1)

Debating Darwin and Design

A Dialogue between Two Christians


Is Intelligent Design science or ‘creationism in a cheap tuxedo’?

20th September, 2011

Francis Smallwood – First Response

‘One of the most common rhetorical moves used by critics is when they illegitimately equate ID with biblical creationism in order to discredit it… ID is not creationism and critics would do well to acknowledge this.’

In my opening statement, I asked if the Intelligent Design movement is, perhaps, just a ‘new strain of creationism’?1 As Joshua says, many of ID’s critics cursorily dismiss ID as ‘creationism’, as if no more need be said. I don’t believe that this is a productive tactic, but despite the rhetoric is there something in the allegation?

Michael Behe writes in his book Darwin’s Black Box,

‘Many people think that questioning Darwinian evolution must be equivalent to espousing creationism. As commonly understood, creationism involves belief in an earth formed only about ten thousand years ago, an interpretation of the Bible that is still very popular [although scientifically indefensible]. For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it.’2

Of the three fathers—I was tempted to say ‘stooges’—of the ID movement—Behe, Dembski and Johnson—Behe is the only qualified biological scientist. Dembski is a mathematician, as evinced by his enamour with gargantuan improbabilities; Johnson, not a scientist of any description, is a shrewd lawyer. As Joshua said, ‘It should be pointed out that ID is a broad tent,’ covering a wide spectrum of views. Whilst there are those within the ID community who subscribe to biblical creationism, notably Paul Nelson, it is apparent, solely from the quote above, that Behe’s intelligent design is far removed from Nelson’s base ‘history denial.’3

So, whilst the equation of ID with biblical creationism—as in six days, light before sun, etc.—is illegitimate, how is it that ID just simply can’t seem to rid itself of creationist associations?

In October, 2004 the school board of Dover, Pennsylvania altered the biology curriculum, so as to allow the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. The board’s decision violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, separating Church from state, bringing them to trial, a band of indignant parents in frank opposition to the board’s actions.

Amongst the expert witnesses for the defense was Michael Behe. The following citation is excerpted from the trial transcript,4 where Behe was questioned by Eric Rothschild:

Q. …Please describe the mechanism that intelligent design proposes for how complex biological structures arose.

A. Well, the word “mechanism” can be used in many ways. In this I was—and when I was referring to intelligent design, I meant that we can perceive that in the process by which a complex biological structure arose, we can infer that intelligence was involved in its origin. …

Q. So intelligent design is about cause? …

A. Well, cause is a broad word, and when you’re trying to explain how something came about, you can say it came about for a variety of reasons. But intelligent design is one reason or one aspect or one cause to explain how the purposeful arrangement of parts that we see did come about.

Q. Back to my original question. What is the mechanism that intelligent design proposes?

A. And I wonder, could—am I permitted to know what I replied to your question the first time?

Q. I don’t think I got a reply, so I’m asking you… what is the mechanism that intelligent design proposes for how complex biological structures arose?

A. Again, it does not propose a mechanism in the sense of a step-by-step description of how those structures arose. But it can infer that in the mechanism, in the process by which these structures arose, an intelligent cause was involved.

Q. But it does not propose an actual mechanism?

A. Again, the word “mechanism”—the word “mechanism” can be used broadly, but no, I would not say that there was a mechanism. I would say that we have an aspect of the history of the structure.

Q. So when you wrote in your report that “Intelligent design theory focuses exclusively on the proposed mechanism,” you actually meant to say intelligent design says nothing about the mechanism of how complex biological structures arose.

A. No, I certainly didn’t mean to say that. I mean to say what I said in response to the last question, that while we don’t know a step-by-step description of how something arose, nonetheless we can infer some very important facts about what was involved in the process, namely, that intelligence was involved in the process.5

Is it just me, or does it appear that ‘creation’ would have suited Behe’s explanation admirably? I cited this exchange at such length because I wanted to show that although Rothschild asked Behe again and again to explain the ‘actual mechanism’ giving rise to ‘complex biological structures’ the most he got in answer was ‘that intelligence was involved in the process’. ID denies that natural, scientifically explicable processes are capable of generating these complex structures and so attribute their existence to a non-natural intelligent ‘designer’, or is it an intelligent creator?

As Kenneth Miller so excellently put it, the intelligent designer is ‘not really a designer but a creator. We may say that a particular organ or species or biochemical system was “designed,” but “design” isn’t what we really mean. We may know that a building was designed, but we know that only because we can see the building itself. A design is nothing more than a concept, a plan, and we would have no evidence that a design ever existed unless someone had taken it and used it to produce a concrete object that we observe and study—unless, in other words, he had actually built the building. Similarly, in the biological realm, a bacterial flagellum wasn’t just designed—it was created. By any reasonable use of language, our designer of molecular machines is actually the creator of those machines and the genes that specify them.’6

Proponents of ID are desperate to distance themselves from creationism—if they don’t they can’t get into the school science class—and whilst, as Joshua said, it is illegitimate to equate ID with biblical creationism, ‘Intelligence… is manifested in creativity. ID proponents believe that the intricate, complex structures that excite our sense of wonder must be the signatures of creative intelligence.’7 The conclusion that ID is some form of creationism, some ‘new strain’, does seem inevitable.

What was the reckoning, then, of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial? The ruling signified another roaring triumph for evolution in its grand battle with creationism. Judge John E. Jones III concluded:

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy… The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources… In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.8

References & Notes

  1. Zimmer, C. Evolution: the triumph of an idea. (London: William Heinemann, 2002). p.325.
  2. Behe, M. Darwin’s black box: the biochemical challenge to evolution. (New York: Touchstone, 1998). p.5.
  3. Dawkins, R. The greatest show on earth: the evidence for evolution. (London: Black Swan, 2010). p.436.
  4. The transcript is available in full at: ntdesigncase/dovertrialtranscripts.htm
  5. Michael Behe questioned by Eric Rothschild. Kitzmiller v Dover [2005] ACLUPA 4:04-CV-2688, p.82-85.
  6. Miller,K. R. Only a theory: evolution and the battle for America’s soul. (New York: Viking Penguin, 2008). p.52.
  7. Young, M. and Taner, E. Why intelligent design fails: a scientific critique of the new creationism. (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2005). p.12.
  8. Judge John E. Jones III’s memorandum opinion, Kitzmiller v. Dover [2005] ACLUPA 4:04-CV-2688, p.136-38.

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