Archive for the 'False Skepticism' Category

Is Intelligent Design “Agnostic”?

(The polls are still open! I’d like to have feedback from you about the future directions of this blog! Exclamation points abound!!!)

A small update: I have corrected an error I made based on a false assumption.

I like to think of myself as being pretty fair-minded, willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. This sometimes has led me into debates with people who aren’t really interested in conversation, or to take certain arguments at face-value for the sake of being generous to the person making them. I guess I’d rather be wrong out of love for my fellow humans than right out of cynicism.

So what to do with the article titled Creationism is biblical, Intelligent Design is agnostic? The author argues that Intelligent Design should not be lumped in with Creationism because there is nothing within ID that postulates a specifically Christian “intelligent designer”. The conclusion drawn is that ID is a legitimate compromise between “nothing vs. Christianity”.

I admit I don’t know much about James Kirk Wall, the author of this piece—he claims to be a religious agnostic. (Correction: he does not claim to be agnostic; see his comment below.) However, he’s simply wrong about Intelligent Design on several levels:

  1. His dichotomy “nothing vs. Christianity” is incredibly simplistic and ignores a huge amount of writing on this subject over the last 150 (and more!) years. As a start, I would recommend that he read Evolution Vs. Creationism by Eugenie Scott for a highly readable and truly fair-minded introduction to the subject, with a substantial bibliography for further reading. (Actually, I recommend it for anybody, and I apologize for not passing it along to you all earlier.) If the choice were truly between “nothing vs. Christianity” framed as Wall does, there could be no Christian evolutionary biologists—yet there are plenty of people who fall into that category who reject Creationism in its various forms. Arguably, science itself is necessarily agnostic over the question of a creator and/or designer, though I don’t really want to open that can of worms in this post.
  2. Although Intelligent Design on its surface is “agnostic” about who or what the “designer” is, nearly all the proponents of ID are conservative Christians with a political, social, and educational agenda that has nothing to do with truly open-minded inquiry. (An exception to this rule is Ben Stein, a Jewish ID advocate who blames evolution for Nazi atrocities.) Even though ID pays lip service to neutrality on the nature of the “designer”, throwing around ideas like “aliens”, etc., to the writers who promote it—Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski, etc.—there’s no question who the designer actually is. A few non-Christian thinkers have signed on to ID, it’s true, but their advocacy of ID is explicitly anti-evolution.
  3. As a related point, although many Intelligent Design advocates are not young-Earth Creationists (that is, thinking the Earth and universe are roughly between 6,000-10,000 years old), that’s hardly the same thing as saying they aren’t promoting an explicitly Christian point of view, albeit one that isn’t universally shared among Christians any more than the young-Earth view is. Creationism is a term that refers to the explicit reference to a creator—or in this case a “designer”—as a quasi-scientific argument, so ID decidedly falls into that category, and has been ruled as such by the US courts. This is the reason I try to capitalize “Creationism” in my writing—I want to separate out the general belief in a creator from Creationism, which inserts explicit reference to extra-scientific material into a scientific context.
  4. Ultimately, Intelligent Design is a science-killer: at some point the ID advocate says “you are forbidden to inquire farther”. It’s a line in the sand: to ID, there are biological systems science cannot explain (the vertebrate eye, the bacterial flagellum, etc.), and ID a priori forbids investigation of certain types. Again, I refer the author of this piece to Scott’s book for a much more thorough analysis.

The “fairness” argument is one that on its surface sounds really reasonable. However, if a “compromise” between science and Creationism involves science giving up what makes it work—examining evidence and constructing testable theories—and replacing it with an unfalsifiable hypothesis involving an intelligence not subject to experiment. That’s hardly a compromise.

(Tip of the pen(dulum) to Roger Ebert on Twitter for this link.)

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