On the Use of the Term "Creationism" in Popular Debate in the Past Century or So

@Eddie, since you seem to agree with @pnelson that ribosomes are not ribozymes, perhaps you can share with the crew here the pieces of data that bring you to this conclusion. I think many would be interested.

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@Eddie would you agree that Behe and Denton’s conclusions regarding optimal peaks in protein foldspace, are explained by regarding foldspace as polyphasic rather than polysemous? Would you agree that the model with the best explanatory power is the Reittman-Nyland manifold, rather than Behe’s model?

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As I recall, somebody digested all the proteins away from a ribosome and it still worked. Google might produce a reference. I’ll look.

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The ridicule isn’t because you proposed a hypothesis, or even because you proposed a hypothesis before you were ready - it’s because you claimed to have a method to calculate “ontogenetic depth”, promised to provide details the next day, and never did.


A perfect example of why ID Creationism is a cargo-cult science. It reminds me of the early days the internet revolution, when it was not uncommon for unscrupulous entrepreneurs to promise amazing new programs and applications. They would create websites, produce ads, pamphlets business cards and all the trappings of a new computer-based venture which they would use to attract investors. Problem was, the promised software was never written, and once the investors’ cheques had cleared, the company would vanish never to be heard from again.

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A post was merged into an existing topic: Ontogenetic Depth


And it’s not a hypothesis at all…

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In this and other threads, you have been attempting to parse between creationism and ID, and this comes across to me as motivated by similar considerations as attends the use of “mind” for “miracle” or some other term for divine intervention. Design is invoked as a level of organization which is held to be inexplicable by natural processes and thus demonstrates the requirement for an intelligent designer.

As you have stated, the basic concept of ID is a big tent, and can encompass views ranging from the AiG vision of specific animal kinds created apart from common descent, presumably across the spectrum to someone holding that God fine tuned the physical constants of the universe at the onset and just let it run. Yet these are very different planes of scientific credibility, and leads to one of the basic frustrations directed at ID, that it is seemingly amorphous. Engaging with ID is like trying to nail jello to the wall.
Some ID proponents state where they stand, others you have no idea whether they think the earth is 6K or 4.5B years old, or whether God created species or kingdoms, because they studiously avoid taking any position which might be regarded as divisive to YEC vs more scientifically literate folk. The tent becomes so large as to be meaningless. What is the unifying concept between Ken Ham creationism and fine tuning deism, other than the intervention of God? As such, ID cannot be given a coherent definition, or tested, in any broad sense, because it skips around between population genetics, to abiogenesis, to cosmology. At some level, as a theist I myself could be considered to be an ID proponent; how does that make any sense if I mostly disagree with the vast majority of ID proponents?

The differences matter. If the position is ID/YEC, it is pointless to appeal to fine tuning which allows for billion year scales of cosmological expansion and stellar lifetimes, and nuclear synthesis of carbon, because YEC does not believe in those timelines or that organic carbon is derived from stars. Yet I have seen YEC appeal to fine tuning. It is like any ID is good ID, even where the packages are incompatible.

Then there is the recalcitrance to allow for the supernatural juxtapositioned along side the eagerness to appeal to the supernatural, as long as it is not in the same breath. Such an elaborate distinction without a difference maintained by such discipline! The invocation of mind but never of God. The refusal to discuss the means of actuation of mind on nature because of the unavoidably miraculous nature of such a mechanism. The problem for ID is that despite the consistent messaging, this distinction is just not convincing. Anyone can see what is being driven at is divine intervention, and as such we have left the realm of science, experimentation, and natural causation, and therefore the motivation for all this caginess has to be to present belief in divine causation as somehow science. That is not to say that science has to have all the answers, only that it is ultimately incoherent to try to make theology within the methodologies of science.

So, in summary of this post, my take on ID is that it is so broad as to defy meaningful definition and is ultimately incoherent. I also believe it has no heuristic value, but this post is already long enough. That said, I want to say that I actually appreciate the steadfast defense the ID proponents on this board present. It would be a shame if this blog became a mere echo-chamber.

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Hello, Ron. Your post asks a reasonable question, and I’ll try to do it justice.

I agree that the “big tent” nature of ID creates problems for many people who encounter it. They often find it confusing or even self-contradictory. As you have pointed out, some of the lines of argument of IDers who are YEC clash with lines of argument coming from IDers who accept an old earth and common descent. I’ll try to clarify as well as I can.

I divide the ID movement into three main groups:

1 – the YEC-IDers.

2 – the OEC-IDers.

3 – the evolutionist IDers.

Examples: for 1, Paul Nelson; for 2, Steve Meyer; for 3, Michael Behe.

Now, the first two of these groups consist of creationists of various types, and therefore differ from the third group on a major issue – they deny the reality of descent with modification (beyond small changes within, say, families). And the first two groups differ from each other, in that the YECs deny much of modern geology and astronomy, whereas the OECs only challenge aspects of evolutionary biology.

So, you naturally ask, why are all these groups working together?

I see ID (understood as a theory rather than as a social movement) as a branch of design detection theory; it’s part of information science, in a way, or at least related to information science. Though all of these groups offer different histories of the universe, earth, and life, they all affirm certain methods to detecting design in nature. That is what unites them, across all religious differences (attitudes to the Genesis, etc.) and historical differences (how old the earth is, whether or not evolution occurred, etc.).

The two main contentions of ID have been:

1 – on the negative side, “Darwinian”, or more generally, largely chance-driven accounts, cannot explain the presence of the amount of complex specified information, etc. that we see in living things;

2 – on the positive side, nature exhibits features that we know, from our human experience, to be within the range of power of intelligent agents.

You will see these two points reiterated in all ID literature, with various wording, in various contexts.

It’s because Nelson, Meyer, Behe, etc. agree on these two broad points that they can all work together, despite major differences among them on other matters.

Thus, I see ID theory as neutral regarding the question “creation versus evolution”, but as taking a strong stand on the issue of “design versus chance.” This is why you can have, on the same Discovery website, endorsements of books which question the evidence for the descent of human beings from apes, but also, endorsements of books which accept that view. Both types of book are promoted because both argue that, whether or not descent with modification is real, the outcomes of the the creative process (whatever it was, a series of discrete miracles or a gradual transformation of previous forms) are such that we would not expect them to occur in the absence of intelligence.

Those are who are looking for a precise historical account of what happened in the past won’t find it in ID. Indeed, this is a criticism that many creationists make of ID, that it doesn’t offer a detailed narrative about the past, as creationism does. They say that ID is great on criticizing Darwinism etc., and useful, but not really a complete theory of origins, because it refrains from giving an alternate an anti-evolutionary historical account. So for them, ID becomes a useful tool, but is not really a strong origins position.

I think this weakness, if it is a weakness, is in the nature of the beast. By limiting itself to design detection, by conducting itself as a part of information science, ID exempts itself from offering specific details of exactly what happened, at particular points of the past. It’s concerned more about the formal than the material side of “design” in nature.

Does any of this help?

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Point 1 is an argument from ignorance based personal incredulity dressed up in pseudo-scientific language. That is not acceptable when trying to make a scientific case.

Point 2 is a basic logic blunder. Because intelligence can do something isn’t evidence intelligence did do something, especially when plausible non-intelligent naturalistic pathways are available. A human designed freezer making ice isn’t evidence an external guiding intelligence created the ice on the frozen pond in the park.

Both of ID-Creationism’s main tenets as you describe them are invalid and unacceptable in science. Of course to the ID-Creationists that doesn’t matter because their goal is not to convince science, it’s to gull scientifically untrained laymen into supporting their religious based political goals.

I don’t think that’s why. It’s that they all agree on one central point (one you dance around), that God is heavily involved in creating the diversity of life. The reason they can all work together is that they don’t consider how he does it important. If ID were real science they’d be spending a lot of time testing their very different ideas. And in fact the lack of serious controversy around their differences is a good clue that the motivation isn’t scientific at all. Another is that ID consists almost entirely of attacks on evolutionary biology of one sort or another. There is no positive program.


Point 2 is predicated on our experience with intelligence. Supposedly. If ID really wanted to extend that logic, then we would presume that the designer is mortal and that there is more than one.

To use the blind watchmaker trope, if we found thousands of watches in a forest of wildly different ages (billions of years), we wouldn’t assume that one watchmaker was responsible. At least not if we were putting forth a scientific hypothesis.

It also wasn’t a hypothesis.

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Point 2 is not just a logic blunder, it is also false; our human experience does not include intelligent agents producing the natural features that IDers like to focus on (cells, bacterial flagella, immune systems, blood-clotting cascades), so we don’t know that they are within that range - they may be beyond it.


At the end of the now-terminated discussion on “What Is a Hypothesis according to…”, Jonathan Burke returned to the subject of the discussion here. He wrote:

“The actual phrase in question, “Intelligent Design Creationism”, is philologically valid as demonstrated by over 100 years of examples (which you ignored).”

This statement is incorrect. There do not exist “over 100 years of examples” of the phrase “intelligent design creationism.” The examples which J. Burke produced are for terms such as “evolutionary creationism,” not “intelligent design creationism,” which is (a) a new term, which only arose in response to the rise of ID, i.e., only arose within the past 20-25 years; (b) a term deliberately coined for polemical purposes, and deliberately coined in full knowledge that the people at whom it was aimed would not agree with the term’s characterization of their views.

“Intelligent design creationism” was never meant purely as an objective descriptor of ID. It always, from its very first usage (coming from the camp of Eugenie Scott and her friends), was intended to create an unpleasant aroma around the movement which called itself just “intelligent design.” The addition of the word “creationism” evoked, and was intended to evoke, a set of cultural associations: “Bible Belt”; “Bible thumpers”; “people without much scientific education”; “Genesis literalists”; “people opposed to science”; “people who deny common descent”; “people who think the earth is only 6,000 years old”; “people like those narrow-minded folks in the movie Inherit the Wind” and so on. Anyone familiar with how language works, how rhetoric works, and the history of origins debates in the USA knows that this was the intent of Scott and others, to evoke these associations and thus convey the impression that all ID proponents were creationists and ipso facto odious.

If Scott did not have this intent, then she would have behaved differently when Behe protested that he was not a creationist and accepted an old earth and common descent. She would have said, “I stand corrected, and from now on will qualify my usage so as to exclude my scientist-colleague Michael Behe.” She could have said that “most” ID proponents were creationists, or she could have spoken of “arguments used in common by ID proponents and creationists,” or the like. Her persistence in applying a label which she knew would mislead readers into thinking Behe and some other ID proponents denied common descent shows that her choice of words was tainted by polemical motives.

J. Burke would have us believe that a term coined in order to belittle a group of thinkers, and coined by the partisans opposed to those thinkers, automatically deserves a place as part of “standard English.” But it doesn’t, any more than any other term invented for the sake of putting a group down deserves to be called “standard English.” I wonder whether he would allow the phrase “Christadelphian heretics” as one that innocently attempts to objectively describe Christadelphianism as historically outside of orthodox Christianity, or would say that the phrase has polemical intent. Would he say that “Christadelphian heretics” was interchangeable in meaning with “Christadelphians”? If not, the application to “intelligent design creationists” is plain.

Rope Kojonen, a scholar whose work J. Burke has praised, has written an entire book about intelligent design, and has not found it necessary to brand ID as “intelligent design creationism.” The difference between Kojonen and those who speak of “intelligent design creationism” is that Kojonen is interested in clearly and precisely defining the movement and the set of ideas he is criticizing, rather than in scoring culture-war points. On blog sites like this, the majority of participants are hard-liners for one position or the other, and they are here to score culture-war points. Thus, it’s not surprising that the anti-ID folks here would not exhibit the careful, detailed scholarly analysis of Kojonen and use more qualified and less absolute language. Partisans don’t “do” nuance.

No, Robert, it wouldn’t. In fact, I cited a Jehovah’s Witnesses publication indicating that the Witnesses were within this definition! You must have missed it. And of course Reasons to Believe is an organization consciously promoting Old Earth Creationism – Creationism – and is creationist in accord with the standard usage of the term throughout the past 100 years. My examples above show that the “young earth” position, though very common among creationists since 1960, is not essential to the definition of creationism. The essential points are denial of evolution, and acceptance, based on a reading of the Bible, of the direct creation of species or at least “kinds.” The age of the earth is a detail, and creationists differ among themselves over that. You will note that only a few of the examples above specify a very young earth, which is evidence of a range of views within creationism on that subject.

As for the Discovery Institute, Discovery takes no formal stance on “creationism” and therefore the percentage of people within Discovery who are creationist or not creationist is immaterial to my discussion. But taken as individuals, many members of Discovery, I estimate the majority, would qualify as “creationists” in accord with the historical definition given above. If you want to say that most Discovery people are creationists, I won’t disagree with you. It is only if you say that all ID proponents are creationist, or if you say that ID theory is inherently creationist, that I will disagree with you.

If you want to insist on a broader meaning of “creationism” to include all who “believe that the world was created,” then you could conclude that 99.99% of ID proponents are “creationist,” but this would come at the high cost of admitting that Francis Collins and Ken Miller and everyone at BioLogos and all orthodox Muslims, Jews and Christians are also “creationist,” and then the negative connotations of “creationism” – which Eugenie Scott has always tacitly appealed to – would be lost. To sneer at ID as “creationism” would then imply sneering at Collins, Miller, and all the Christian clergy who signed the clergy letter, etc. And Scott couldn’t have afforded to slam her allies in that way. Only a definition of “creationists” that doesn’t include her Christian scientist allies and Christian clergy allies would do for her purposes. But there is no philologically consistent way of excluding Collins, Miller, etc. from “creationism” without also excluding Behe and some other ID proponents. So all she could do was slide over her inconsistent usage and hope that her readers wouldn’t catch the problem. Unfortunately for her, some of her readers are too intelligent, and too careful with words, to let her sleight of hand get by.

Interestingly, there is a Biologos forum discussion right now in response to Biologos being listed by media bias fact check as a pseudoscience organization, albeit a mild one (docile? adorable?).

Overall, we rate the Biologos Foundation a mild pseudoscience website based on ascribing evolution to the hand and workings of God, which is not known or provable.

So it seems that if you believe God had anything to do with anything, you are a pseudo scientist. Welcome to the club.


Once more you are completely failing to read what I write. I did not say there existed over 100 years of examples of the phrase “intelligent design creationism”. You appear to be referring to the information I first raised in this post. It includes these statements.

Additionally he’s only treating the common use of “creationism” and “creationist” as isolated nouns, completely avoiding the fact that they are also commonly used in adjectival noun phrases, specifically with the broader meaning that he wants to avoid. He’s also ignorant of how old terms such as “evolutionary creationism” and “creation by evolution” are, but that’s another story.

You didn’t address that. Or this.

That’s precisely why terms such as “creation by evolution”, “evolutionary creationism”, “Young Earth Creationism”, and “Old Earth Creationism”, actually predate the term “intelligent design”. I have no problem at all identifying myself as a kind of creationist; specifically, an evolutionary creationist.

Or this.

No. That’s precisely why “creationism” and “creationist” continue to be used in common terms such as “Young Earth Creationst” and “Old Earth Creationist” and “Evolutionary Creationist”, because people fully recognize that it is of use in identifying distinct parties in origins debates. No one reading those terms says “Well you’ve used the word “creationist” each time, so it’s totally unclear how they’re all different, they all look the same to me, I can’t tell them apart”. The use of the word “creationist” in those terms does exactly what it’s supposed to do; identify what they all have in common . That’s precisely how it’s used when speaking of “ID Creationism”.

You keep trying to avoid this point. It was at this point that you tried to shift the goalposts by claiming that using “creationism” with the term “evolutionary” or “evolution” was confusing, since (according to your unsubstantiated claim), these terms are mutually exclusive.

I then proved your claim was untrue.

As I demonstrated, the use of “creation by evolution” dates to at least 1973, and the use of “evolutionary creationism” dates to at least 1910, both of them predating even the term “Intelligent Design”. People have been using these terms for 100 years without any confusion.

You haven’t addressed this.

No. I did not provide those as examples of the phrase “intelligent design creationism”. You have not addressed what I wrote in that post. Here it is again.

You confined yourself to the use of the word “creationism” by itself, whilst totally ignoring over 100 years of the use of the words “creationist” and “creationism” in adjectival noun phrases.

  1. Young Earth Creationism.
  2. Old Earth Creationism.
  3. Intelligent Design Creationism.

Nor have you addressed what I wrote in a previous post. Here it is again.

I read what you wrote. I have already pointed out these facts.

  1. Your analysis was confined strictly to “usage of “creationist” and “creationism” (when these terms are used without an adjective in front of them)”. This immediately skews the results.
  2. You did not mention that “creation by evolution” has been used since at least 1873.
  3. You did not mention that “evolutionary creationism” has been used since at least 1910.
  4. You did not mention that “intelligent design creationism” is a widely used term, and has been used since at least 1996.

Why did you not mention these facts?

Nor this followup post.


Here’s what you did say:

Given this sentence, a normal English reader would take it that the “over 100 years of examples” were examples of the use of the phrase “intelligent design creationism.” If this is not what you meant by the sentence, then you wrote awkwardly and unclearly.

Correct, and that confinement was deliberate. It is such usage that has drilled into the minds of North Americans who follow origins debates a certain meaning of “creationism” – a meaning which they tend to hear immediately when they hear the word – unless there is a context which warns them to adjust that meaning.

If they see the phrase “evolutionary creation,” then they have such context and such a warning. Given that “evolution” and “creationism” are so commonly opposed, they have to stop and think for a minute, and then can figure out that “evolutionary creation” means “creation through an evolutionary process,” i.e., what up until recently was usually called “theistic evolution.”

When they see the phrase “ID creationism” or “intelligent design creationism,” they do not have such a context and warning, because it is very clear to them that the people who coined the phrase and constantly use the phrase do not mean “creation through an evolutionary process” or “theistic evolution.” It is very clear to them that the people who use the phrase mean that ID is anti-evolutionary and “creationist” in the sense they are accustomed to hearing.

So your desperate attempt – to prove me wrong by arguing that putting any phrase whatsoever in front of the word “creationism” changes the meaning in a crucial way – fails. The phrase “intelligent design creationism,” as employed by the vast majority of the people who use it, does nothing more than specify yet another brand of “creationism,” where creationism is clearly meant to imply: (a) anti-evolution; (b) primarily religious, specifically Christian and Bible-based, motivation. In other words, the “creationism” within the phrase “intelligent design creationism” remains the “creationism” I defined above (on the basis of actual usage rather than on the basis of my preferences). Sticking the qualifier “intelligent design” in front of “creationism” doesn’t alter the cultural aroma of the new compound – and that aroma is exactly what Scott and her gang intended to convey. She wanted everyone who read her phrase to imagine that ID was at bottom just more of Morris and Whitcomb, and she knew that “creationism” would bring up the image of a mob of fundamentalists singing “We’ll hang Bert Cates from a sour apple tree” (from the widely-seen film Inherit the Wind).

Because it’s irrelevant to the point I was making. Neither the NCSE nor the people here (such as Faizal Ali) mean “creation by evolution” when they use the phrase “intelligent design creationism.” They mean that in intelligent design theory, creation is not by evolution. Usually they mean that in intelligent design theory, God “poofs” new kinds into existence.

Because it’s irrelevant. Scott and Faizal Ali do not use the phrase “intelligent design evolutionary creationism,” nor do they mean that “creation” for ID proponents is “evolutionary.” See the previous point.

It’s “widely” used only by a particular group of culture warriors (mostly internet geeks) amounting to about .01 per cent of the North American population, and it’s used polemically and with malice aforethought. It’s deliberately and willfully inaccurate, as it conveys the impression that all ID proponents are anti-evolution (which is empirically falsified by many counterexamples), and it conveys the impression the ID as a theoretical position is both anti-evolutionary and dependent on Biblical revelation, both of which are false.

Further, you didn’t answer my example above: If, starting around 1996, “Christadelphian heretics” became “widely used” by a group of active internet posters and travelling university lecturers as a replacement for “Christadelphian,” would that fact that this substitution was a new social reality make the label a fair one to describe Christadelphians? Or would you protest the addition of a word which, in your view, was (a) incorrectly applied and (b) applied for polemical and partisan motives, to make people dislike or distrust Christadelphians? Would you ask that people simply refer to “Christadelphians” when naming or identifying your group? Would you be reasonable to do so?