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Science and the Bible: Intelligent Design, Part 4

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December 5, 2012 Tags: Design
Science and the Bible: Intelligent Design, Part 4
Graphic based on the testimony given by philosopher Barbara Forrest at the Kitzmiller v Dover trial in the autumn of 2005. Source: http://www.newscientist.com/blog/shortsharpscience/uploaded_images/wordplay-736296.jpg

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

Some important conclusions

(1) ID is both a set of ideas about detecting design within science, coupled with a strong critique of “Darwinism” (here understood as evolution by natural selection, unguided by any detectable agent); and a movement with political and cultural goals, heavily influenced by conservative Christianity and aimed at toppling “Darwinism” (here understood as a broad, anti-religious cultural mindset, not evolution per se). Although the ideas differ significantly from those of “creationism” in the YEC sense, the tone of ID sometimes resembles that of “creationism” so closely that it can be hard to tell the difference.

ID is not “creationism in a cheap tuxedo,” a provocative description attributed to Kansas University paleontologist Leonard Krishtalka. It clearly lacks some distinguishing features of creationism and the specific theological and biblical concerns that drive it. For example, ID takes no stance on “death before the fall,” an issue related to the theological problem of evil (theodicy) that is a crucial factor behind the presence of the word “young” in YEC creationism (for more on this, see my comments in an earlier column). ID does not attempt to “explain” the fossil record by claiming that the Biblical flood accounts for it. ID does not deny the “Big Bang” theory—indeed, some of the most interesting “design” arguments put forth by ID proponents assume the general validity of the Big Bang (see my comments on fine tuning here). Nor does ID oppose the great antiquity of the earth and universe in defense of a “literal” interpretation of early Genesis. Strictly speaking, ID does not even oppose common ancestry, although nearly all ID proponents do oppose it—leading many observers (including me) to view it mainly as a covert form of the OEC view. Precisely because ID refuses to embrace these core tenets of “creationism,” some creationist leaders have been highly critical of it; e.g., see Ken Ham’s attack on William Demski.

Despite these key differences, however, ID does resemble young-earth creationism in tone. For many ID proponents, evolution is not only a false scientific theory, but also a leading cause of moral and spiritual decline in modern America. This combination is highly characteristic of the YEC view, so whenever ID leaders link these two things they can easily come across to people outside of their “big tent” as just another group of “creationists.” Leading ID authors have pushed the cultural piece to such an extent that I do not believe it can be separated from the ideas without distorting what ID actually is.

In 1998, the Discovery Institute circulated privately a document called “The Wedge Strategy,” that was subsequently leaked and is now famous—or infamous in the eyes of many secular critics of ID. The “wedge” metaphor originated with Phillip E. Johnson, who later published a book called The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism (2000). According to Johnson, “the Wedge … is an informal movement of like-minded thinkers in which I have taken a leading role. Our strategy is to drive the thin edge of our Wedge into the cracks of the log of naturalism by bringing long-neglected questions to the surface and introducing them into public debate.” Johnson identified the real “enemy” of the Wedge not as “those in open and honest opposition to our proposal but rather the obfuscators—those who resist any clear definition of terms or issues, who insist that the ruling scientific organizations be obeyed without question and who are content to paper over logical contradictions with superficial compromises.” (pp. 14 & 17) I have no doubt that at least most (perhaps all) advocates of TE, whom he once called “mushy accommodationists” (I heard him say this at a public event many years ago), were in the front of his mind when he wrote this. “The Wedge Strategy” document explicitly refers to a program of “Cultural Confrontation & Renewal” as the final of three phases in the project. At that point, the author(s) hoped, it would be possible to start addressing “the specific social consequences of materialism and the Darwinist theory that supports it in the sciences.” An ultimate goal was “To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.”

William Dembski, the leading ID theorist, has likewise linked ID inextricably with culture wars, especially in his preface to Darwin’s Nemesis, a book he edited in Johnson’s honor. “Because of Kitzmiller v. Dover, school boards and state legislators may tread more cautiously, but tread on evolution they will—the culture war demands it!” Rhetoric such as this can only put fuel on the fire of critics of ID who go looking for tuxedos in certain closets.

Advance advertisement for the book, Darwin’s Nemesis. (Source)

In addition, ID proponents have sometimes clearly co-operated with, or even allied themselves with, “creationists” of the YEC variety. The most visible instance involves the textbook, Of Pandas and People, which was at the center of the controversy in the Dover (PA) school district. Some leading ID advocates, including Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer, contributed to certain editions of this book, which has been published in various versions under various titles since the first edition, Creation Biology (1983), which was a genuine YEC book. During the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, philosopher Barbara Forrest testified about the book’s complicated history, using information obtained from the publisher during the discovery process prior to the trial. The crucial year was 1987, when the Supreme Court ruled against the YEC view in Edwards v. Aguillard. Of Pandas and People was published twice that year—once before the ruling and again afterwards. The graphic at the start of this column shows what took place: in dozens of instances, the word “creationism” was replaced by the term “intelligent design” on a wholesale basis, with no other changes in wording to indicate a difference in meaning was intended. This evidence was a major reason why Judge John Jones ruled in Kitzmiller v. Dover “that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism.” I say more about Kitzmiller v. Dover here.

(2) Scientific evidence is highly relevant to belief in design, but nothing specific can be said (for the time being) about the identity of the designer. When it comes to God and religion, ID is a “big tent,” united by opposition to materialism (which is often equated with evolution) and content (for now) to overlook even enormous theological differences among adherents.

ID proponents hold that science can detect the presence of design—if its profound bias against “intelligent” causes is set aside in the name of truth—but science is impotent to identify any specific designer, including the God of the monotheistic religions. Although most ID proponents are theists and many are Christians, ID purports to be about science, not about God.

Consequently, at least a few important ID authors are not Christians. Here the best known example is undoubtedly Jonathan Wells (read more here and here), a follower of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The recipient of earned doctorates in both Molecular and Cell Biology (Berkeley) and Religious Studies (Yale), he also has a degree from the Unification Theological Seminary (Barrytown, NY). This is not an incidental fact, since Wells himself has said that “Father’s [Moon] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism.” Nevertheless, his best-known book, Icons of Evolution (2000), is often sold at creationist meetings in churches and at Christian bookstores.

At least a few ID proponents are not even theists. A striking example comes from a debate about ID and God that took place in Texas four years ago. Just one of the four speakers, Cambridge University biologist Denis Alexander, is a Christian—and he spoke against ID on this occasion. Physicist Lawrence Krauss, an atheist, joined Alexander’s side of the debate. The pro-ID side consisted of philosopher David Berlinski, an agnostic Jew, and philosopher Bradley Monton, an atheist who has since written a book called Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.

To round out this brief analysis, let me mention a recent suggestion from sociologist Steve Fuller, an agnostic who testified for the defense (the Dover school district) in the famous trial and later wrote a book called Dissent Over Descent: Intelligent Design’s Challenge to Darwinism (2008). Fuller is now saying that ID should not avoid theodicy and other parts of theology. He speaks for himself here and in an interesting audio (with a response from Steve Meyer) here. (I obviously have a more positive assessment of TE than Fuller does.) Whether an explicitly theological approach will fly within the ID camp remains to be seen, but I have my doubts. As an historian rather than a prophet, I don’t usually like to prognosticate, but in this case I will: if ID becomes much more open about theology, then it will largely re-define itself as a type of OEC. And the “big tent” will collapse, with a consequent loss of support at the popular level from many of the YECs who’ve been camp followers under that large canopy.

Advertisement for a debate about ID and God held in 2008. (Source)

Looking Ahead

I will return once more in about two weeks with more conclusions and a very brief historical discussion. Since the view is so recent and I don’t know very much about its history myself, I’ll just point readers toward several historical accounts written by authors from diverse perspectives. That will conclude my study of Intelligent Design.

Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #75279

December 13th 2012


Thank you for your response.

Let us take the Formula used by the website:  Variation + Differential Reproduction + Heredity = Natural Selection

I do not understand whatsoever the inclusion of Variation in Natural Selection.  That makes no sense as far as Darwin or anyone else describes Natural Selection or evolution. 

Now one could say that Differential Reproduction = Natural Selection.  Heredity of course is part of the process, but it is a given, so I don’t see it as a variable.

Variation + Natural Selection = Evolutionary Change.  Variation produces change, but not all variations survive, and flourish.  Most significant ones do not as we know.  Natural Selection is the process by which nature determines which survive and flourish and which do not. 

The Big Question is what causes Differential Reproduction.  This is what NeoDarwinians that I have read do not address.  Natural Selection is their Black Box or deus ex machina.  This what makes it possible to say the whole process is random or without purpose.

Your website indicates that the polar bear does not get a thick fur coat because it wants or needs one.  Certainly however Natural Selection favors a polar bear with a thick coat over one with a thin one, and white bear over a brown polar bear. 

Nature encourages and often enforces adaptation to the environment.  This is how NS works.  This is its meaning and purpose, its telos. 

Therefore Variation and Natural Selection are two separate and different processes.  The are both basic and necessary components of evolutionary change as we see it all around us.  Some are now saying that genetic drift can create s new species without NS, but genetic drift is based on the idea that neutral or mildly negative genetic change does not result in selection out but selection in.

You said that neoDarwinists recognise the power of the environment, but Dawkins fought ecology tooth and nail.  Now neo Darwinists are trying to purge E. O. Wilson from the ranks of Darwinists because he supports “group selection” (adaption) over kin selection.  The website you refered me to talks about enviromental niches, but carely does not use the word ecology. 

From what I see which is the tip of the iceberg there is a struggle going on within the evolutionist community between the Old Guard led by Dawkins and the New Blood influenced by Margulis. 

I would hope that that BioLogos would be on the right side of this struggle and begin by reading DARWIN’S MYTH.       

beaglelady - #75292

December 14th 2012

They are looking to hire new Fellows.  Have you thought about applying?

lancelot10 - #75386

December 18th 2012

Natural selection is not an evolutionary mechanism - it cannot add DNA code to create new kinds of creatures  - but merely select the most suitable DNA already created.  The fit deer which escapes the lion is still a deer and will not evolve into a whale by being hit randomly on the gonads by cosmic rays.   

Indeed natural selection or survival of the fittest tends to keep the DNA pure. DNA also

corrects any mistakes using repair mechanisms.

Seenoevo - #75280

December 13th 2012

Seenoevo: “How would a man’s daily life be changed whether the earth moves around the sun or vice versa?”

Hornspiel: “How would a man’s daily life be changed if the world was 4.5 billion years old instead of 6000 years old?”

I can’t think of any way any of the above would effect a man’s daily life, where “daily life” is defined as decisions and actions made by virtually all people regardless of religious belief (e.g. earning a living, buying necessities).

But could a man’s religious life, specifically a life based on and guided by Scripture, be changed by the above?

Could a “moving or unmoving earth” affect his Scripture faith? I can’t think of a way, can you? As I indicated earlier, how could a plain reading of Scripture yield anything other than indifference on this (i.e. Scripture does not appear to clearly address the issue and so gives no absolute answer on the issue)?

But could a claim of a world much older than 6,000 years (e.g. 4.5 billion years) affect his Scripture faith? That goes without saying, yes?

Eddie - #75288

December 13th 2012

Does it go without saying?  — NO.

It would only affect his “Scripture faith” if his “Scripture faith” amounted to the proposition:  “All past-tense narrative statements in this document were intended by the author(s) to be understood as referring to objective historical events.”

But of course, it is not necessary to read the Bible within such a restrictive hermeneutical horizon.  We see that C. S. Lewis, the great Anglican apologist whose writings have been responsible for countless conversions to Christian faith, did not read Genesis in this way.  Also, the Roman Catholic Church is particularly wise in this matter.  In its Catechism, for example, it says that some elements in the Garden story are “figurative.”  And in a document produced by a committee under Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became the current Pope, slavish literal-historical reading is denounced.  Protestant fundamentalists could learn from the Catholics on a few points.


Seenoevo - #75281

December 13th 2012

HornSpiel: “…the interaction between the genotype and the phenotype through the mediation of the genetic decoding and encoding. We do not know how that came about … but we observe it. It is a knowable scientifically describable design agent.”

Are these things designs or design agents?

Is software code better described as a part of design or as a design agent?

If you described software code as a design agent, then how would you describe the software programmer?

HornSpiel - #75294

December 14th 2012

Are these things designs or design agents?

Both. Evolutionary “design” mechanisms or agents are deriviative of the ultimate Designer

I am fine with gaps in our scientific understanding, and patiently looking for naturalistic answers to those questions. Since I assume a Designer behind everything in nature, I see no need or benefit in “scientifically” proving design. All progress in understanding nature, it seems to me, reveals deeper mysteries.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #75293

December 14th 2012


Thank you for the suggestion.

However I am too old to be playing games with BioLogos or anyone else.

If they are interested in having me work for them, they know how to contact me.

I am not holding my breath.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #75296

December 14th 2012

HornSpiel wrote: 

I see no need or benefit in “scientifically” proving design.

The value and need of knowing that the universe is orderly structured indicating that it is “designed” is:    

  1. That it is true as far as we can tell.
  2. That life has meaning.
  3. That life has purpose.
  4. That humans can depend on the regularity of nature when planning their lives and controlling their destinies.  

Otherwise there is no scientific or other kind of truth, life has no intrinsic meaning or purpose, and human thought has no power or significance. 

Only fools say in their hearts:  “There is no God.”  

HornSpiel - #75300

December 14th 2012


“Scientifically” proving design is not the same as believing that the universe is designed.

I believe science works because nature, which it describes, it is designed. Science is derived from a belief in a orderly and good creation reflecting a Creator that does not mislead us by making thing appear one way when they really are not. 

I perhaps I should have worded my statement differently though. I do not believe it is possible to scientifically prove design in the way that ID tries to because I believe design is a fundamental axiom of creation. In mathamatics a theorm cannot prove an axiom on which it is based. I believe what ID is trying to do is much the same. In other words, I believe nature is designed, but that that statement cannot be proved from within nature.

I hope that explains my statement. I am not denying design, meaning, purpose or the regularity of nature. I just don’t feel those depend on scientific proof.

GJDS - #75318

December 14th 2012


Your  #75294 is fascinating; I partly agree and also vigorously disagree. Perhaps I should be clear; an example from history may be interesting. W. B. Jensen, in “Four Centuries of Atomic Theory - An Overview” states, (Atoms in Chemistry: From Dalton’s Predecessors to Complex Atoms and Beyond; Giunta, C.; ACS Symposium Series; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2010), states:

“No one questions, of course, that the 19th- and 20th-centuries were the heyday of chemical atomism and historians ... have long agreed that Dalton’s work was the starting point for our current quantitative views .... Less well known, however, is the fact that atomism had been slowly seeping into chemical thought for nearly two centuries before Dalton and,.... these earlier variants of chemical atomism did not lead to a significant breakthrough…. gradually produced a significant qualitative reorientation in the way in which chemists thought about chemical composition and reactivity—a qualitative reorientation which formed an essential foundation for the rise of a quantified gravimetric atomism based on Dalton’s concept...”

The paper is well worth reading and you would appreciate how over 2 centuries of thinking (inadequate) impacted on the development of chemistry.

I make two points: (i) What would you have thought if these earlier attempts at understanding  natural science, were dubbed ‘Theistic’ chemistry, or promoted as a way to show how God operated and how we would ‘read His thoughts after Him?” and (ii) while it is understood that many honourable people passionately advocated notions such as “17th-century atomistic interpretation of acid-alkali neutralization in terms of points and pores”, do any chemists use a modified or revised version of this in modern chemistry? The answer is that everyone abandoned these notions and no-one believed God acted in this way.

Yet Darwin’s ideas have undergone greater variations and revisions; instead of abandoning these (as chemists abandoned these archaic notions of chemistry), and seeking something more scientific, we have people insisting and clinging to this inadequate idea, a semantic theory at best. Does this conform to your notion of ‘progress in understanding nature?’

I now come to my major point. If we agree that there are ‘gaps’ and ‘inadequacies’ in Darwin’s outlook, would anyone of the Christian faith, who believes that God is Truth, in good conscience agree to a notion such as your Theistic evolution? I remind you that if you agree that the evolutionary thinking has gaps and so on, it is necessary that your theistic evolution must have these gaps, which means your outlook towards God must also contain these gaps, inadequacies and errors. This is a conscious choice and not some ‘weakness in human nature’. By the way, since ID people also agree with the Darwinian notion, these comments must also apply to them, with the exception that they would promote an inadequate designer as well.

I put forward these comments merely for discussion and not as some sort of argument or accusation.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #75327

December 15th 2012


I agree with what you say, but a basic problem with this whale debate which no noe seems to recognize is:

The basic issue is not science per se, but the philosophy of science which determines how we understand what the universe is.

I have been begging people on this site to examine two basic philosophical issues which form the basis Scientism, that is 1) Naturalism or physicalism and 2) Monod’s view that the universe has not meaning and purpose. 

These are not scientific questions, but philosophical issues, but our premises largely determine our conclusions.  One would think that with the philosophical and theological capabilities that Christians have or should have, we should be able to take apart the flawed philosophy of Dawkins & Co.  However we have not.

I do not know if you have read the book The Battle of the Beginnings by Del Ratzsch.  He concluded that neither side could win because science has science on its side, while Creationism has philosophy onm its side.  Based on my study I have come to the opposite conclusion, the science of evolution is flawed, while believers do not make a strong philosophical case that the universe is created because we let the basics of Sceintism stand without question.

If something is true, it is true philosophically, theologically, and scientifically.  Now these three areas of human inquiry are different, they cover different areas of knowledge, but still we cannot say that truth is relative for these disciplines. 

Rational form need not be proven to be true, but if the claim is made that it has been disproven as some have done, it needs to be challenged, which we have not done.    


Roger A. Sawtelle - #75362

December 17th 2012

Please excuse the typos in the entry above.

As an additional note I would like to criticize the Sky Hook/Crane paradigm developed by Dennett and used by Dawkins and others. 

The concept behind thias view is that evolution must be explained as a top-down process determined by God (Sky Hook) or bottom-up process carried out by cranes (natural laws.)  In terms of this dualistic false dichotomy Dawkins goes ith the cranes. 

One serious problem with Crane model is that these cranes (not the birds) are not natural.  They are human contraptions, designed, produced, and operated by human beings.  Thus like natural selection is based on the artificial model of agricultural production of hybrids, the Crane model is based on the human use of mechanical contraptions, so it is no way natural.

The reason for the use of a crane is to lift up materials using triangulation and a lever to some height while keeping the crane rooted on the ground.  Thus builders can build to some height from the gound up.  Height is closely associated with the future.  Evolution is basically future oriented or purposeful.  Cranes because they are human operated and can provide height can also be future oriented and purposeful. 

The problem with cranes again is that they are not natural.  However Dawkins & Co. claim that evolution is the crane, which is by their concept a natural process of change from the bottom up.  The closest thing to this view is Variation.  Variation according to Darwin is the natural process by which life forms change.

The problem with this view is that the evolutionary is not Variation alone, it is Variation and Natural Selection.  Natural Selection determines which variations will survive and fluorish.  Natural Selection is a rational process that is future oriented and is best described as a Sky Hook. 

Thus Evolution contains two processes, it is both Crane and Sky Hook in form.  It is both bottom up and top down.  It is not monistic or dualistic, but triune.

There are some basic examples of this kind of two part processes used by humans in ancient times.  Grain was threshed by having oxen tramp on it, a very random process.  Then the grain was selected by tossing the tramped product up and having the wind carry away the chaff and catching the wheat. 

Gold was purified by super heating the ore, a random process, and then the selective process of separating the heavier gold from the lighter impurities.                  

The ecology, the environment, determines which variations will survive and thrive and which will not.  This is rational, teleological Natural Selection. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #75392

December 18th 2012

HornSpiel, Jon, GJDS, C.W., et al,

It appears that everyone is either tired of this subject or preparing for Christmas.

In my humble opinion the best way to celebrate the coming of the Messiah, the birth of the Savior, and the Incarnation of the Logos is the accept the idea that TE is right about Variation, and ID is right about Natural Selection.  Puting them together we have stronger and better science and theology. 

That way we can stop fighting among ourselves and turn our efforts toward winning over Creationists who have also rejected Darwinism and those who accept evolution but can not see how Christianity is compatible with it.  

It might not work, but it is worth a try.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  We live by faith and not by sight.

A Blessed Christmas and a Wonderful 2013 to all.  Happy Birthday, Jesus. 

Love, Peace, and Joy,


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