One of our members, @Eddie, who is a fervent supporter of what I, and many others here, refer to as Intelligent Design Creationism, has objected to the term “creationist” being used to describe all members of the ID movement. Specifically, he believes that the term should not be used to refer to individuals such as Michael Behe and Michael Denton who accept common ancestry between all organisms on earth, including humans.
In defense of his position, he recently started a topic in which he purports to demonstrate thru quotations that the term “creationism” is generally used in narrow sense that would exclude any views that accept that humans and other organisms evolved from common ancestors, even if it is claimed that this could not have occurred entirely thru the naturalistic processed described under the theory of evolution and, instead, required the intervention at some point of an “intelligent designer.”
There ensued an, at times, rather spirited if not heated discussion in which I was an active participant. However, I think it appropriate to write a more detailed and clearly worked thru response, rather than have it buried in fragmented form in that discussion.
My disagreement with @Eddie is mainly twofold:
I believe his citations are selective and not representative of the full range of ways in which the term “creationist” is currently used.
He sets up a premise by which there are two dichotomous ways in which the term can be used:
My position is that these two extreme positions to not exhaust the possibilities, and in what follows I will give examples in which the term is used in a manner that is more narrow than the first, but broader than the second. Specifically, I will demonstrate that the current practice includes using the term “creationism” to refer to ID as a whole, including those of its proponents who accept common ancestry.
(I also believe that @Eddie misrepresented or misunderstood many of the quotations he used, but I do not wish to get bogged down in an exhaustive point-by-point debunking of his post. In the interest of fairness, I will also mention that at least one person who opposes ID agrees with Eddie’s definition.)
To begin with, I took an admittedly rather simplistic approach and did a Google search for pages containing the terms “Behe” and “creationist” or “creationism.” Here are some of the examples that came up:
“Since the publication of his book Darwin’s Black Box (New York: The Free Press, 1996), Behe has made dozens of public appearances to promote his creationist ideology and respond to criticisms with specious arguments…”
“If you go to the website of the biology department of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, where resides the ID creationist Michael Behe, you’ll find this disclaimer:…”
Now, admittedly, these are drawn from sources that are critical of the Intelligent Design movement. However, there are also examples from ID proponents acknowledging this use of the term. For instance, this from none other than the founder of the ID movement, Philip E. Johnson:
“Some readers may wonder why the scientists won’t admit that there are mysteries beyond our comprehension, and that one of them may be how those complex animal groups could have evolved directly from pre-existing bacteria and algae without leaving any evidence of the transition. The reason that such an admission is out of the question is that it would open the door to creationism, which in this context means not simply biblical fundamentalism, but any invocation of a creative intelligence or purpose outside the natural order.”
Regardless of whether Johnson himself endorses or agrees with this use of the term, it cannot be denied that he explicitly confirms that it is used in this way. And this if far from the only example of ID proponents complaining about being referred to as creationists. If this use of the term was truly as rare and anomalous as @Eddie would have us believe, one would have to wonder why ID proponents are spending so much time and effort trying to correct it.
Additionally, if we look at the scholarly literature, we find that there are philosophers of science who refer to ID as “Intelligent Design Creationism”, to the point that it is even sometimes referred to by the acronym “IDC”:
And, of course, let’s not forget the example that was most devastating to the intelligent design movement, the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial where a US federal court was convinced by evidence, including testimony from Michael Behe himself, that ID is nothing more than a form of creationism, rebranded for legal and political purposes.
So we have multiple examples, including the academic literature and legal decisions, in which ID is referred to as a form of creationism. Now, certainly Eddie and other defenders of ID are free to try argue that this is a result of a misconception or misunderstanding of ID, of other forms of creationism, or of both. But that is a battle for them to fight, and no one is obliged to concede the argument to them. What is clear is that it is untenable to claim that, in practice, the term “creationism” is not frequently used in a manner which includes all versions of intelligent design, including those forms which accept common ancestry.
Beliefs like creationism are not usually not static, and neither is language. There may have been a time when creationists all but universally believed that the earth was only a few thousand years old, and this could be taken as a sine qua non of creationist belief. However, over time increasing numbers of creationists have conceded that this belief is untenable in light of the available evidence, hence the splitting of creationism into “young earth” and “old earth” varieties. What I suspect we may now be observing is a recognition by an as-yet small number of creationists that the evidence for common ancestry similarly cannot be denied, and that creationism must be modified to reflect this. If this becomes a larger trend within the movement, it may soon be denoted a third stream of creationism, perhaps called “Common Descent Creationism”. To my thinking, this would be far more reflective of reality than to lump Behe and Denton in with proponents of evolution, and as opponents of the forms of creationism that deny common descent. A mere look at the rhetoric of these individuals, of other members of the ID movement, and of those who defend the theory of evolution against creationism will show a clear demarcatioin, with Behe and Denton on the same side of the divide as the other creationists.
The definition of creationism that I believe is most reflective of the facts as given in the above discussion would be along the lines of “The belief that any attempt to account for the diversity of living forms that have populated the earth which does not require the direct intervention of an intelligent agent such as a god fails as a scientific theory.”