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ID and “Divine Design,” Part Two

John G. West

Blogger Ed Brayton is fulminating over my comments about those who wrongly conflate intelligent design theory with religion. Brayton responds with proof-texts supposedly showing that key ID supporters think ID makes religious claims after all. Mr. Brayton doth protest too much. First of all, if he had read the article I referenced in my blog post about why ID is not creationism, he would have known that I never deny that ID can have metaphysical implications. As I wrote in that article:

4. Like Darwinism, design theory may have implications for religion, but these implications are distinct from its scientific program.
Intelligent design theory may hold implications for fields outside of science such as theology, ethics, and philosophy. But such implications are distinct from intelligent design as a scientific research program.

I went on to explain that ID in this respect is no different than Darwinism:

Leading Darwinists routinely try to draw out theological and cultural implications from the theory of evolution. Oxford’s Richard Dawkins, for example, claims that Darwin “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

(6) Harvard’s E.O. Wilson employs Darwinian biology to deconstruct religion and the arts.

(7) Other Darwinists try to elicit positive implications for religion from Darwin’s theory. The pro-evolution National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has organized a “Faith Network” to promote the study of evolution in churches. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the NCSE, acknowledges that the purpose of the group’s “clergy outreach program” is “to try to encourage members of the practicing clergy to address the issue of Evolution in Sunday schools and adult Bible classes” and to get church members to talk about “the theological implications of evolution.”

(8) The NCSE’s “Faith Network Director” even claims that “Darwin’s theory of evolution…has, for those open to the possibilities, expanded our notions of God.”

(9) If Darwinists have the right to explore the cultural and theological implications of Darwin’s theory without disqualifying Darwinism as science, then ID-inspired discussions in the social sciences and the humanities clearly do not disqualify design as a scientific theory.

The central issue here is not whether ID proponents believe there is a God (many do), or even whether they think the findings of ID are harmonious with a belief in God. The real question is whether design theorists claim that science can determine that the intelligent cause being detected via empirical evidence is God. ID scholars have consistently answered this question in the negative.

Consider the following passage from the early ID textbook Of Pandas and People (the cited passage was co-authored by Mark Hartwig and Stephen Meyer):

Advocates of design have included not only Christians and other religious theists, but pantheists, Greek and Enlightenment philosophers and now include many modern scientists and describe themselves as religiously agnostic. Moreover, the concept of design implies absolutely nothing about beliefs normally associated with Christian fundamentalism, such as a young earth, a global flood, or even the existence of the Christian God. All it implies is that life had an intelligent source. [Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, second edition, 1993, p. 161]

Or, since Ed Brayton cites Bill Dembski, consider the following statement from Dembski’s book Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology (1999):

Intelligent design is modest in what it attributes to the designing intelligence responsible for the specified complexity in nature. For instance, design theorists recognize that the nature, moral character and purposes of this intelligence lie beyond the remit of science. As Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis remark in their text on intelligent design: “Science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy.” Intelligent design as a scientific theory is distinct from a theological doctrine of creation. Creation presupposes a Creator who originates the world and all its materials. Intelligent design attempts only to explain the arrangement of materials within an already given world. Design theorists argue that certain arrangements of matter, especially in biological systems, clearly signal a designing intelligence. [Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, Intervarsity Press, 1999, pp. 247-248]

The above book explicitly deals with the relationship between ID and theology (and it’s even published by a Christian publisher). Yet Dembski still makes very clear that ID as a scientific theory is limited in what it can show about the intelligent cause. This is a repeated theme in Dembski’s work over the past decade. Consider the following similar passage from Dembski’s book No Free Lunch (2002):

Paley’s approach was closely linked to his prior religious and metaphysical commitments. Mine is not. Paley’s designer was nothing short of the triune God of Christianity, a transcendent, personal, moral being with all the perfections commonly attributed to this God. On the other hand, the designer that emerges from a theory of intelligent design is an intelligence capable of originating the complexity and specificty that we find throughout the cosmos and especially in biological system. Persons with theological commitments can co-opt this designer and identify this designer with the object of worship. But this move is strictly optional as far as the actual science of intelligent design is concerned. [Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence, Rowman and Littlefield, 202, p. xiv-xv] ]

What about Michael Behe, one of the leading ID biologists? Does Behe claim that ID can prove the existence of God? Nope:

the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments. For example, a critic recently caricatured intelligent design as the belief that if evolution occurred at all it could never be explained by Darwinian natural selection and could only have been directed at every stage by an omniscient creator. That’s misleading. Intelligent design proponents do question whether random mutation and natural selection completely explain the deep structure of life. But they do not doubt that evolution occurred. And intelligent design itself says nothing about the religious concept of a creator. [“Design for Living: The Basis for a Design Theory of Origins,” The New York Times, Feb. 7, 2005.]

Meyer, Dembski, and Behe are three of the top ID scholars. Anyone who has actually read their work knows that they have been consistent about the limits of what empircal science can show regarding the nature of intelligent causes, and they have consistently distinguished design as a scientific research program from philosophical or metaphysical implications of the theory. A few cherry-picked quotes ripped out of context does nothing to change this fact.

Neither does an out-of-context quote from an old Discovery Institute fundraising proposal, most of which focuses not on ID as a scientific theory but on the cultural context of science and the harmful effects of the pseudo-scientific philosophy of scientific materialism. That document does mention that design theory is “science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” So what? “Consonant with” means “harmonious with,” not “identical to.” Where’s the scandal in such a claim? Theistic evolutionists like Ken Miller ardently believe that Darwinian theory is “consonant” with Christianity. In the the PBS “Evolution” series (2001), Miller gave the following statement of faith about the consistency of Darwinism with Christianity (with organ music playing softly in the background!):

not only was Darwin right about about the origin of species, and not only was Darwin right about the mechanisms of evolutionary change, but there’s nothing about those origins or that mechanism of change which goes against religious belief, and therefore I sort of find this absolutely wonderful consistency with what I understand about the universe from science and what I understand about the universe from faith. (emphasis added)

Because Miller finds an “absolutely wonderful consistency” between Darwinism and Christianity, does this mean that Darwinism is simply repackaged Christianity? Of course not.

It seems that some Darwinists can’t argue against ID’s real position, so they have to invent a straw man. But no amount of proof-texting is going to change the fact that leading ID theorists have consistently maintained that the design inference in science cannot prove the existence of God.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.