My Journey to the Heart of ID, part 1
For nine days this past July, I had an inspiring experience. I hesitate to write about such things as such experiences are usually personal and subjective. It is sometimes worth the effort, however, when the experience demonstrates some important truth worth sharing with others. In this instance I don’t want to share my experience per se, rather I am hoping to convince readers to seek it for themselves. The task at hand is far more difficult than I am willing to admit. Before I can begin to reach those who might be educationally or intellectually interested in this subject I will have to cut through a tremendous amount of noise and clutter. For the subject matter at the heart of this series is… (GASP)… intelligent design.
My own intellectual journey regarding intelligent design began with reading several books, both for and against the subject, as part of my studies at Biola University. Attending the Discovery Institute’s Summer Seminars was the culmination of several years of study. For others, attending the seminars can be the beginning.
The theory of intelligent design (ID) is the arguably one of the most poorly understood subjects that can be brought up in our culture today. I am not merely speaking about ignorance of the subject. There are many subjects that are not widely understood let alone known. For example consider the following:
1) Real-time embedded software engineering
2) Quantum confined semiconductors
3) Molecular pharmacology
4) Mobility shift electrophoresis
5) Electron beam lithography
The findings in some of these fields have far-reaching, practical applications to modern society, while others are on the bleeding edge of research in engineering and biology. The mention of these (or other obscure but important disciplines) does not elicit much reaction except perhaps from practitioners or amateur observers. You would be hard pressed to find someone deliberately distorting the nature of these disciplines, or claiming that western civilization is threatened by any of these subjects.
Now let us consider another list of topics:
1) Evolutionary developmental biology
2) Intelligent design
Unlike the first list, all of these subjects are likely to generate passionate responses from a variety of people. Many of the things written and said about these topics are incredibly foolish. Yet various statements of praise, ridicule, dismissal and triumph are made about them. Why is it that subjects like these cause people to be so passionate and so certain while seemingly oblivious to what they don’t know? People don’t flood Amazon.com with bogus reviews denouncing a new textbook on Quantum Electrodynamics. Yet every book written by Stephen Meyer brings forth a new wave of pitchfork waving, torch bearing crusaders who need to protect the less informed from reading about such dangerous ideas as ID.
Why are the two lists above so different? The first list focuses on topics that lie at the foundations of modern technology. People devoted to those fields make modern life possible. We are made healthy, kept alive, protected and even entertained by such science and technology. The second list, by contrast, has nothing to do with how technology and science advance. These subjects touch on something far more profound than how long we live or how well we are entertained. What is humanity? What is life? How did we get here? These are questions of profound significance that some claim are answered by the subjects found in the second list.
Here we find the root cause of all the tension. How we answer such questions lies at the heart of each person’s worldview. Space and a desire to stay on topic prevent me from delving into the various factors that may dictate a person’s worldview. Suffice it to say, the implications of a person’s worldview are sometimes a more powerful motivation than reason, logic or evidence.
There are a myriad of myths available to read on the Internet and in print as to the nature of intelligent design. If you have fallen prey to the fallacy of only reading the critics of an idea, I empathize. A key weapon, perhaps the only weapon, typically deployed by the critics of ID is ridicule. Who would dare challenge the reigning paradigm of science (modern evolutionary theory or neo-Darwinism)? To do so, makes one subject to such quotes such as the following from Richard Dawkins.
“It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”
My advice to the open minded and curious is to read the proponents and practitioners of ID. At the end of this post I will include a variety of links and a few Amazon links for further reading.
What is intelligent design?
Contrary to media reports, intelligent design is not a religious-based idea, but instead an evidence-based scientific theory about life’s origins-one that challenges strictly materialistic views of evolution. According to Darwinian biologists such as Oxford’s Richard Dawkins, livings systems “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” But, for modern Darwinists, that appearance of design is entirely illusory.
Why? According to neo-Darwinism, wholly undirected processes such as natural selection and random mutations are fully capable of producing the intricate designed-like structures in living systems. In their view, natural selection can mimic the powers of a designing intelligence without itself being directed by an intelligence.
In contrast, the theory of intelligent design holds that there are tell-tale features of living systems and the universe that are best explained by an intelligent cause. The theory does not challenge the idea of evolution defined as change over time, or even common ancestry, but it does dispute Darwin’s idea that the cause of biological change is wholly blind and undirected.
To round out this post, I would like to touch on some of the more common myths about ID:
ID is repackaged creationism, sometimes denigrated as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo.”
This needs to be unpacked a little to properly refute. First, while creationism might be an equivocal term, what is meant here is specifically young-earth creationism or creation science. A response to this charge can take the term “creationism” and cast it into an even wider context and consider the contrast between the theological doctrine of creation and ID.
William Dembski summarizes the relationship as follows:
“Creation asks for an ultimate resting place of explanation: the source of being of the world. Intelligent design, by contrast, inquires not into the ultimate source of matter and energy but into the cause of their present arrangements, particularly those entities, large and small, that exhibit specified complexity.”
Another, more absurd facet of this myth is based on an implication of ID—that it leaves an opening to the possibility of the Christian doctrine of creation (God created the universe a finite time ago). By conflating the doctrine of creation with scientific creationism (which was removed from public school curriculums by Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987) one can reach the tenuous conclusion that compatibility with religion is tantamount to promoting religion.
Intelligent Design is based on the Bible.
The intuition that nature exhibits the work of a designer has been discussed in various cultures and worldview contexts since the ancient Greeks. Further, a designer of nature was a foundational assumption of science that was not abandoned until the early 20th century. The development of science was predicated on two assumptions about nature. First, it is rationally ordered and comprehensible. Second, in contrast to ancient Greek philosophy, the nature of the physical world is contingent—it cannot be discovered via philosophical reflection. In short, there is an order to nature that can be discovered. That order is the product of a mind. These ideas are at home within, even derived from, Christian theism. In other words, the Bible presents a worldview whereby science is possible, but it does not dictate what science is or what science will determine about the nature of physical reality.
Some primers and more thorough resources regarding ID:
Polemics surrounding Intelligent Design:
Examples of flawed and misguided critiques of Intelligent Design:
Science Left Behind Can Teach Us about Political Tactics of Intelligent Design Critics (Contains numerous links to other stories on problems in the news media reporting on Intelligent Design.)
In my next post I will offer an analysis as to why there is so much confusion on how these topics are discussed.
I would like to thank Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute and Melissa Cain Travis for their editorial input.
 This blanket statement is based on many different things. The vast majority of criticisms of ID are based on straw men conceptions of ID. At the end of the this post there are some articles that specifically address examples of misguided arguments against ID.
 Many reviews, sometimes quite lengthy, are posted on Amazon before the book can even be shipped to readers. One of many examples is discussed here.
Ken Mann is a graduate student in Biola’s Science and Religion program. Ken is a software engineer by way of vocation, a physicist by way of education, and a devout follower of Jesus Christ, in his words, by necessity. Ken is the Chapter Director of Ratio Christi at the University of Colorado, Boulder.