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Words for Wednesday! Disentangling ID from Creationism

Photo credit: Pisit Heng via Unsplash.

There are so many words out there in need of definitions! Yesterday on Stephen Meyer’s Facebook page we launched the new “Terminology Tuesday” feature, with a quick read about just what we mean by intelligent design, and what we DON’T mean. We don’t mean creationism.

Yes, we’ve noticed that many folks are unsure how “intelligent design” and “creationism” differ. Indeed, misunderstanding (willful or otherwise) of what we mean is rampant in the comments section. So on this extra-wordy Wednesday we’ll tackle both terms together. 

  1. Intelligent design (“ID”) is the theory, based on the scientific method and empirical evidence, that the best explanation for the “apparent design” in the universe, which is acknowledged by most scientists, is actual design by an intelligent agent. 
  2. Creationism is the belief, typically based on religious scripture and tradition, that the universe has been designed and created by a divine agent. 

Many Flavors to Choose From

Intelligent design proponents and creationists come in many flavors. Creationists certainly believe that the creator is intelligent. They might also believe that the creation account in the book of Genesis should be interpreted as six 24-hour days, and that the earth is just several thousand years old. But some creationists interpret the Genesis account differently, and believe that the earth and universe are very old. Others start with different religious traditions altogether. Many creationists look for scientific data that supports their religious tradition. 

Intelligent design proponents, on the other hand, do not necessarily subscribe to any particular view of who or what the designing intelligence is. In other words, creationism starts with the identity of the designer and works downward to the creation, while intelligent design theory starts with empirical evidence and does not, from this scientific evidence, ascribe an identity to the designing mind.

Do creationists believe that the universe was designed by an intelligent agent? Yes! 

Do intelligent design theorists believe that the intelligent agent was the creator described in the Hebrew Bible? Some do. Others don’t.   

One reason the distinction is important is that many materialists (those who believe that everything about the universe is explicable in purely material terms, apart from a mind) ridicule creationism and lump ID in with it as if the two are equivalent. Whatever you believe, it’s important to recognize that creationism and ID are not the same thing. Creationism starts with the belief in a designer and interprets data accordingly, while ID starts with scientific evidence and infers the best possible explanation for that evidence.