Earlier this year, the popular blog Little Green Footballs (LGF) made an outrageous attempt to link Discovery Institute to the Muslim creationist Harun Yahya (a.k.a. Adnan Oktar). Their post claimed, “Discovery Institute is in league with Islamist creationists, a fact that is indisputably true,” specifically mentioning Yahya / Oktar (“just happens to be a former volunteer for Harun Yahya”). Discovery Institute’s president Bruce Chapman dignified their charges with a forceful refutation, but LGF’s reply to Mr. Chapman was basically a string of ad hominem attacks that relied on a tenuous chain of distorted and incomplete facts. If there was any doubt left that Discovery Institute and Islamic creationists are not “in league,” consider a recent interview with Harun Yahya/Adnan Oktar in Der Spiegel where he expressed his strong dislike for intelligent design (ID):
SPIEGEL ONLINE: To what extent were you influenced by the Christian fundamentalists from American and Europe, from the proponents of so-called Intelligent Design?
Oktar: I find this concept of Intelligent Design somewhat dishonest. One should straightforwardly believe in the existence of Allah, one should stand up for Religion, whether for Islam or Christianity. The concept of Intelligent Design claims that things were somehow created but not by whom. One should clearly say: It was Allah.
(Original Der Spiegel “INTERVIEW MIT HARUN YAHYA” in German, September 22, 2008, translation provided by a friend)
That pretty much drives the last nail into the coffin holding LGF’s claim that Discovery Institute is “in league” with such “Islamist creationists.” Their claim is certainly not “indisputable,” and it is by no means true.
Yet Yahya is not the only creationist to oppose intelligent design. Old earth Christian creationist Hugh Ross has criticized ID saying, “Winning the argument for design without identifying the designer yields, at best, a sketchy origins model.” Young earth creationist leader Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research wrote that intelligent design, “even if well-meaning and effectively articulated, will not work … because it is not the Biblical method.” And Carl Wieland of Answers in Genesis (“AiG”) says that “AiG’s major ‘strategy’ is to boldly, but humbly, call the church back to its Biblical foundations” and therefore AiG does not “count ourselves a part of this movement nor campaign against it.”
Addressing Misconceptions about ID
These creationists are absolutely right that ID does not try to address religious questions about the identity of the designer and does not use biblical or religious methodologies in making its case for design in nature. Of course, creationist groups can employ a religious methodology if that is what they desire to do, but intelligent design is different: ID takes a strictly scientific approach to studying origins. While some people may see that as a weakness, I have always seen that as a strength of ID.
And while some creationists seem to appreciate ID’s scientific methodology and understand why ID does not try to address religious questions about the identity of the designer, others like Yahya apparently do not grasp ID’s approach: The refusal of ID proponents to use ID to draw scientific conclusions about the nature or identity of the designer is principled rather than merely rhetorical. It has nothing to do with being “dishonest”; rather, ID’s non-identification of the designer stems from a desire to take a scientific approach, respect the limits of scientific inquiry, and not inject religious discussions about theological questions into science.
In short, ID as a scientific theory does not identify the designer because under present scientific knowledge and technology, there is no known scientific method for identifying the intelligent source responsible for design in nature. Thus for the scientific theory of ID to try to identify the designer would be to inappropriately conflate science with religion. Thomas Woodward explains the principled reasons why the current biological evidence for ID is insufficient to allow us to identify the designer:
There is no ‘Made by Yahweh’ engraved on the side of the bacterial rotary motor–the flagellum. In order to find out what or who its designer is, one must go outside the narrow discipline of biology. Cross-disciplinary dialogue must begin with the fields of philosophy, sociology, history, anthropology, and theology. Design itself, however, is a direct scientific inference; it does not depend on a single religious premise for its conclusions.
(Thomas Woodward, Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design, pg. 15 (Baker Books, 2006).)
In other words, the empirical data, such as the information-rich, integrated complexity of the flagellar machine, may indicate that the flagellum arose by intelligent design. But that same empirical data does not inform us whether the intelligence that designed the flagellum is Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, Yoda, or some other type of intelligent agency. There is no known way to use such empirical data to determine the nature or identity of the designer, and since ID is based solely upon empirical data, the scientific theory of ID must remain silent on such questions.
In contrast to the claims of Yahya, ID’s non-identification of the designer has nothing to do with being “dishonest.” Yet many ID proponents (including me) have been extremely open about our personal views on the identity of the designer, but we have made it clear that these are our personal religious views and not the conclusions of intelligent design. In this regard, I have encountered ID-proponents who are openly Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, or other. For further discussion and documentation, please read “Principled (not Rhetorical) Reasons Why Intelligent Design Doesn’t Identify the Designer,” where I explain that, “I too believe the designer is the God of the Bible, but this is not a conclusion of ID; it is my personal religious view that stems from factors outside of intelligent design.”
As I noted, intelligent design’s non-identification of the designer stems from an intent to respect the limits of scientific inquiry and not make claims that go beyond what can be learned using scientific methods. Any fair analysis of the situation will come to the following conclusions:
- ID does not address religious questions about the identity of the designer, and in fact ID proponents have diverse views about the identity of the designer;
- ID proponents give principled reasons why ID does not identify the designer, stemming from ID’s intent to respect the limits of science and not attempt to address religious questions that go beyond what can be scientifically inferred from the empirical data;
- Whether traditional theists or not, ID proponents are entirely open about their views on the identity of the designer;
- ID proponents make it clear that their views about the identity of the designer are their personal religious views, and not conclusions of ID.
Update, 10-4-08, 10:15 am: Accidental type-o missing the word “not” fixed in previously garbled sentence that had other errors that have also now been fixed. Those who capitalize upon obvious type-o’s (that are inconsistent with everything else I wrote in this post) to make serious arguments are grasping at straws to avoid embarrassment over their non-credible arguments.
Update 10-6-08, 11:45 am: A lurker has written me the following about this incident:
“Also, for the record, my visits to LGF have become extremely infrequent due to Charles Johnson’s propensity to foam at the mouth regarding ID. His apparent atheist faith has driven him into alternate viewpoint derangement, making reasoned discussion with him on the subject of origins impossible. His stubborn perversion of science to support his apparent atheism is blind, ignorant faith. Science permits inference based on observation.* However, inference that runs counter to his apparent atheist worldview drives him to logical fallacy. One does not have to be an ID proponent to see this. One simply has to have the intellectual honesty to 1) acknowledge the definition of faith, and 2) acknowledge the role of faith in beliefs about the origin of life. So far, Charles Johnson of LGF demonstrates a failure to do so.”
“* Darwin inferred evolution from observation with no knowledge of genetic mutation. Michael Faraday inferred the basis of modern electromagnetic theory from observation with no knowledge of advanced mathematics. Whereas Faraday’s ideas are supported by the mathematician and physicist James Maxwell, modern knowledge of genetic mutation undermines macroevolution. Biologists recognize that genetic mutation introduces destructive (kill, maim, or render sterile offspring before reaching adulthood) noise into DNA information, and so fails to explain new body plans on any timescale. The atheists among them are searching for some other genetic mechanism to support their worldview. Apparently, in the meantime, Charles Johnson has their back.”