The Distinguishable Line Between ID and Creation Science

Rob Boston is the senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and has been since 1987. He is the author of three books, such as Close Encounters with the Religious Right (Prometheus Books, 2000), The Most Dangerous Man in America? Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition (Prometheus Books, 1996) and Why the Religious Right Is Wrong About Separation of Church and State (Prometheus Books, 1993). He is also a writer for the Salon, a news website dealing with a wide number of political, economic and daily living subjects.

In his recent article, 5 Ways Creationists Are Trying to Sneak Creationism Into Public Schools (Jul. 7), Boston writes that

Intelligent design tries to cover up some of the more outlandish claims of standard creationism (6,000-year-old Earth, dinosaurs and humans living at the same time, Noah’s Ark was real, etc.) and instead posits that humans and other life forms are so complex that they must have been designed by some intelligent force. If this force just happens to be the Christian god, then so be it [ … ] But at the end of the day, ID proponents are left to fall back on religious explanations. [1]

Is this true? One attorney during the aftermath of the Kitzmiller v. Dover controversy in Dover, PA announced that “Intelligent Design is a particular religious belief” [2]. Is creation science to be mixed in with Intelligent Design?

A Definitive Contrast

University of Wisconsin historian of science Ronald L. Numbers is critical of intelligent design, yet according to the Associated Press, he “agrees the creationist label is inaccurate when it comes to the ID movement” [3]. Numbers is one of the leading figures in the history of science and religion, including its “modern debate.” He was also a past president of both the History of Science Society and the American Society of Church History. In line with Numbers, John G. West, the Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, writes that

[w]hy, [ … ]  do some Darwinists keep trying to identify ID with creationism? According to Numbers, it is because they think such claims are “the easiest way to discredit intelligent design.” In other words, the charge that intelligent design is “creationism” is a rhetorical strategy on the part of those who wish to delegitimize design theory without actually addressing the merits of its case. [4]

Jim Herrick in his introduction to Humanism writes that “[t]he Creationists who reject the theory of evolution in favour of biblical description are largely evangelical Christians. They are not numerically significant among scientists, but they have made quite a noise, especially within the US. The extent to which they are taken seriously – largely by non-scientists – suggests a wide lack of understanding of science” [5].

Though Herrick touches on this issue (see pages 44-46) predominately within the Creationist camp, he makes no comments in respect to the ID camp. However, is this because he finds favor with one but not the other? Nothing can really be said, other than my sympathies of his lack of addressing the two (what has often been wrongfully done) as “inseparable”.

Perhaps an interesting writer in respect to the ID position would be Thomas Nagel, University Professor at New York University and author of many books such as Mind and Cosmos (Oxford University Press: 2012), Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament (Oxford University Press: 2010) and What Does It All Mean? (Oxford University Press: 1987). He (himself an atheist) in 2009 recommended Stephen C. Meyer’s notorious book and best defense of the ID position Signature in the Cell (HarperOne: 2009), writing that the book is a “careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.” To quote Nagel at length, he writes in respect to this ID and Creation science contrast:

The contrast between the rejection of ID and the rejection of creation science is instructive here. To reject the explanations creation scientists offer of the fossil record in terms of the biblical flood, we do not have to first assume that the Bible is not literally true. Even if we begin, for the sake of argument, with no prior assumptions about the literal truth of the Bible and assume that, prior to the geological evidence, it could be true, we will very quickly find overwhelming evidence that it is not – evidence that does not depend on ruling out in advance the possibility that the world was created six thousand years ago. All the conclusion depends on is not taking the literal truth of the Bible as an article of faith that cannot be refuted by any amount of contrary empirical evidence [ … ]

Intelligent Design is a different story. Its defense requires only that design be admitted as a possibility, not that it be regarded as empirically unassailable. It would be difficult to argue that the admission of that possibility is inconsistent with the  standards of scientific rationality. Further, if it is admitted as a possibility, it would be difficult to argue that the currently available empirical evidence rules out decisively, as it does young earth creationism. To rule it out decisively would require that the sufficiency of standard evolutionary mechanisms to account for the entire evolution of life should have been clearly established by the available evidence. So far as I can tell, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary, nothing close to this has been done [6].

In other words, respective denials of creation science and ID are of a different kin. Creationism’s denial particularly, is a conclusion that depends its “not taking the literal truth of the Bible as an article of faith that cannot be refuted by any amount of contrary empirical evidence.” While, on the other hand, ID ruled out as a possible hypothesis “would require that the sufficiency of standard evolutionary mechanisms to account for the entire evolution of life should have been clearly established by the available evidence.” However, as Nagel notes, “nothing close to this has been done.”

_______________

Notes:

  • [1] Rob Boston, 5 Ways Creationists Are Trying to Sneak Creationism Into Public Schools (Salon: Jul. 7)
  • [2] see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WRzm1T99BE
  • [3] See John G. West, Intelligent Design and Creationism Just Aren’t the Same (CSC: Dec. 2002)
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Jim Herrick, Humanism: An Introduction (Promotheus: 2005) pp. 45-46
  • [6] Thomas Nagel, Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament (Oxford University Press: 2010) p. 51
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