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The Phantom Menace of Creationism

David Klinghoffer

Conspiracy theorist Lauri Lebo, writing at Religion Dispatches, seeks to defend once more her cloudy thesis that by criticizing a move in Louisiana to teach creationism in public schools, Bruce Chapman revealed Discovery Institute’s secret plot to support teaching creationism in public schools. Even as conspiracy theories go, this one lacks plausibility.
I wrote here earlier that Ms. Lebo, a journalist with a specialty in these issues, is presumably aware of the “enormous differences” between creationism on one hand and intelligent design (or even mere Darwin doubting) on the other. She assures us she does know the difference but there’s still no evidence of that in her latest column. Instead she thinks she has found a smoking gun, linking Discovery Institute with creationism, in our definition of intelligent design. According to the definition, the theory holds “that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”
Writes Lauri Lebo:

No matter how many times they deny it, intelligent design relies on the supernatural. They can hide it in the passive voice all they want, but when you talk about an “intelligent cause” you are talking about a creator. And that makes it (wait for it) creationism.

Actually, nothing in that definition, or in the scientific evidence, indicates the intelligent cause must be supernatural in the sense we normally give to that word. And even if the definition did speak of a “supernatural intelligent cause,” ID would not be relying on the supernatural but arguing for it.
But as a thought experiment, imagine that ID really did identify the “intelligent cause” as a deity, a creator. Would that make it “creationism”?

No, not unless you are in the habit of buying lame arguments based on tenuous verbal comparisons. Words have meanings. “Creationism” is a useful word to designate the claim of scientific evidence for a literal reading of Genesis, from the creation story to Noah’s flood. ID not only does not provide proof for a literalist Biblical theology; it goes head-on against such a theology on major points.
So even if ID spoke of a deity, what would support Ms. Lebo’s application to intelligent design of the scare word “creationism”? Nothing, if you understand that we use different words to denote different things precisely to avoid confusion of the kind Ms. Lebo has fallen into. Dear Lauri Lebo, the fact that some people have used the same word in different contexts does not prove that everything so designated is the same.
Ms. Lebo thinks she has another smoking gun in the obvious sociological reality that arguments for ID are more popular among religious believers than among atheists. She alludes breezily to “DI’s Christian motivations” and quotes Judge John E. Jones of Dover fame: “The writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity.” The references to “Christian” and “Christianity” are more scare words. That ID’s proponents include non-Christians (me, for example) doesn’t penetrate Ms. Lebo’s awareness.
She pounces on William Dembski’s comment about intelligent design as a restatement of “the Logos theology of John’s Gospel…in the idiom of information theory,” while ignoring Dembski’s consistent statements about why intelligent design is not creationism. I would go Dr. Dembski one better by saying ID is a restatement of the first word in the Hebrew Bible, Bereishit, which some ancient rabbinic sources translate not as “In the beginning” but “With wisdom” — that is, with information did God create the heavens and the earth.
But so what? If many people care about the Darwin debate more than about other disputes in science because it has implications for religion, that doesn’t make intelligent design an expression of “religion” or “Christianity,” much less of “creationism,” any more than the fact that Darwinism stirs enthusiasm among many atheists makes Darwinism a species of “atheism.” It isn’t that, is it, Ms. Lebo?

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.