I contend that the modern intelligent design movement is not properly described by the term “creationism,” and that it is not derived from an attempt to circumvent the supreme court ruling Edwards v. Aguillard, as is sometimes claimed.
What does “creationism” mean?
Before explaining my reasons for this belief, however, I think it is important to carefully define what I mean by "creationist." The term “creationism” can mean a lot of things. In popular usage, it typically means “the literal belief in the account of Creation given in the Book of Genesis.”(definition taken from Wordnet) It has this meaning because Genesis literalists, also known as young earth creationists, have been using it to exclusively describe themselves for many years.
For example, Henry M. Morris wrote in his article “The Tenets of Creationism,” that creationism includes things like “The first human beings did not evolve from an animal ancestry, but were specially created in fully human form from the start.” and “…recent global hydraulic cataclysm.” He also believes the term implies the belief that “The physical universe of space, time, matter and energy has not always existed, but was supernaturally created by a transcendent personal Creator who alone has existed from eternity.” (Link) Morris was the founder of the Institute for Creation Research and co-author of The Genesis Flood, the first book advocating young earth creationism in modern times.
Apparently, the National Academy of Sciences agreed with Morris before Edwards v. Aguillard, since they wrote in 1984 that creationism, as advocated at Edwards, would include the following: “(1) the earth and universe are relatively young, perhaps only 6,000 to 10,000 years old; (2) the present form of the earth can be explained by "catastrophism," including a worldwide flood; and (3) all living things (including humans) were created miraculously, essentially in the forms we now find them.”(Link)
The supreme court went on to accept this definition of creationism in Edwards, concluding that “the teaching of 'creation-science' and 'creationism,' as contemplated by the statute, involves teaching 'tailored to the principles' of a particular religious sect or group of sects.”(Link)
In conclusion, the term “creationist” has become firmly associated with young earth creationism and Genesis literalism, particularly in the minds of most scientists associated with the evolution debate. This was especially true in the late 1980s, around the time of Edwards v. Aguillard, when the first intelligent design textbook, Of Pandas and People, was being written.
Should intelligent design be associated with Genesis literalism?
In both its ancient form and its modern revival, intelligent design has almost always been entirely separate from any particular of interpretation of the Christian scriptures and has always been advocated simply on the basis of scientific evidence.
William Dembski, a modern expert on ID, defines intelligent design as “the science that studies signs of intelligence.” (The Design Revolution, page 33) Basically, intelligent design centers on finding, studying, and cataloguing identifiable results of intelligence. When intelligent design advocates find a sign of intelligence, they do it simply by infering from the scientific evidence. As Michael Behe put it in his book, Darwin’s Blackbox: “The conclusion of intelligent design flows naturally from the data itself – not from sacred books or sectarian beliefs.” (page 193) Note that people who study the signs of an intelligence may also hold beliefs about who the intelligence is. These beliefs, however, cannot be proven by, and thus are not part of, the science of intelligent design.
This kind of thinking has been going on since ancient times, when Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates advocated the idea that a mind was necessary to allow for the emergence of life. (cf, evolutionist Michael Ruse’s chapter in Debating Design, pgs 13-16) Later, during the Roman era, Cicero advocated the idea that the universe displays “the rational design of an intelligent being.” (Link) None of these thinkers believed the scientific evidence pointed to any particular intelligent designer – instead they attempted to identify signs of intelligence.
This runs in direct contradiction to the points made by the ACLU at the Dover trial, which were subsequently copied by Judge Jones. While it is true that theologians such as Aquinas and Paley further developed the idea of intelligent design in order to argue for the existence of God, the idea is much older than Aquinas and Paley. Furthermore, modern advocates of intelligent design recognize that the scientific link between “this object is designed” and “this object is designed by the Judeo-Christian God” is tenuous at best. This, among other things, distinguishes them from Paley and Aquinas.
The specific term “intelligent design” goes back to an article called "Darwinism and Design Argument," which was written in 1897 by Ferdinand S.C. Schiller. He wrote, “…it will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of Evolution may be guided by an intelligent design.” (Link) This is essentially the belief of modern ID advocate Michael Behe, who believes intelligent guidance produced biochemical systems like the bacterial flagellum.
I doubt it would be possible to provide a complete list of people advocating intelligent design before Edwards v. Aguillard. I will, however, provide a few examples for the purposes of this debate.
E.J. Ambrose, professor of cell biology at the University of London, discussed “creative intelligence” in his 1982 book, The Nature and Origin of the Biological World. Quote: “I now suggest that our factor X, being an input of new information, requires the operation of Creative Intelligence…Our understanding of the concept of creative intelligence comes from our own experience.”(page 141)
Sir Fred Hoyle, an atheistic astronomer turned deistic ID advocate, argued for intelligent design in his 1983 book The Intelligent Universe. Quote: “A component has evidently been missing from cosmological studies. The origin of the Universe, like the solution of the Rubik cube, requires intelligence.” (page 189)
Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen discussed the possibility of intelligent design in their 1984 book The Mystery of Life’s Origin. Quote: ” We have observational evidence in the present that intelligent investigators can (and do) build contrivances to channel energy down nonrandom chemical pathways to bring about some complex chemical synthesis, even gene building. May not the principle of uniformity then be used in a broader frame of consideration to suggest that DNA had an intelligent cause at the beginning?” (page 211)
Thaxton, one of the authors of Pandas, also wrote a 1986 paper explicitly endorsing the concept of “intelligent causation.” This paper briefly discussed the SETI program and pointed out that Paley was incorrect to argue that intelligent design proves the supernatural. (Link)
Finally, agnostic Michael Denton indirectly supported the conclusion of intelligent design in his 1985 book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. While discussing Paley’s watchmaker argument, he wrote, “…the inference to design is a purely a posteriori induction based on a ruthlessly consistent application of the logic of analogy. The conclusion may have religious implications, but it does not depend on religious presuppositions.” (page 341) Although he did not explicitly endorse intelligent design, the quoted statement represents the core of the modern movement.
In conclusion, intelligent design has a separate intellectual history from Genesis literalism and is a fundamentally different idea. Thus, attempting to associate the two ideas by grouping them under the term “creationist” is unfair at best and dishonest at worst.
Usage of the term “creationist” in Of Pandas and People.
During the Dover trial, Barbara Forrest, among others, attacked intelligent design as being derived from creationism. Essentially, Forrest advocated the idea that intelligent design is a legal loophole designed to circumvent the supreme court ruling Edwards v. Aguillard which outlawed the teaching of Genesis literalism in public schools. Ironically, in order to reconcile the obvious differences between the two ideas, Forrest defined “creationism” so broadly that Kenneth Miller, an expert witness for the evolutionists, had to admit to being a creationist under the definition used. (Link)
One of the most widely cited arguments used by Forrest involves the change in terminology in Of Pandas and People after Edwards v. Aguillard. Specifically, the term “creationist” was consistently replaced by the term “design proponents” immediately following the court ruling. In one case, this resulted in the now notorious “cdesign proponentsists.” The idea that Pandas was changed from a “creationist” textbook to an “intelligent design” text book to circumvent the ruling was implied by Forrest.
What is often overlooked by the evolutionary websites and blogs is the fact that the president of the organization that wrote Pandas, Jon A. Buell, was asked about the change in terminology at Dover, and explained why they chose the new term. (Link)
Jon A, Buell, president of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics writes:
That misrepresents the actual fact of the matter because creationism took on a specialized meaning while the book was being developed.
There was a new position that was being determined through dense extensive interaction between scientists and philosophy science. We knew that it was fundamentally different from creation science. And then when the National Academy came out with their definition, we knew that we had to choose a term that would distinguish between the two. And as evidence of what I'm saying I offer you this, that we, on our own dime, flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, after McClain went down, and tried to appeal to the Attorney General not to appeal the verdict, because we felt that it was wrong -- wrong minded. And the same is true before the case with Edwards v. Aguillard, we flew to Atlanta, we met with the attorney, the lead attorney. We tried to persuade him to drop creation science. And it is true that among -- in the literature, intelligent design was a term that appeared now and then.
These terms go back to a previous century. E. J. Ambrose, a British cell biologist and cancer researcher, used the term creative intelligence. That was one of the things that we thought about. We picked this term.
We knew well before we were -- I don't know, maybe a year before we were through with the manuscript, editing it, that we would not use the term that had been assigned while we were doing the book with specialized terminology, and now you're coming now and saying that this terminology as it applies today is what we had in mind. That just is not the fact.
The meaning of the term “creationist” changed, not the content of Pandas. Early additions of the book did not advocate anything resembling the normal definition of creationism. There was no mention of catastrophism, the Bible, or the age of the earth. In fact, a pre-Edwards draft of the book explicitly stated, “observable instances of information cannot tell us if the intellect behind them is natural or supernatural. This is not a question science can answer.” (Cited on page 23 of Traipsing Into Evolution, emphasis added) In the light of this quotation, it is obvious that the intent behind the word “creationism” in Pandas was very different from how the term was used in Edwards.