The Massive Confusion On ID and Evolution

Continuing the discussion from Greg on the Forum:

@eddie how do you suppose ID supporters come to missnderstand ID’s view on this so thoroughly? Why do you suppose they are unwilling to correct their view?

We are reassured over and over again that ID is not anti-evolution. Denton and Behe are theistic evolutionists, yet we also here the direct contradiction in this quote all the time. What gives?


My own solution is to disavow that people who hold such views are ID supporters. They actually undermine ID.


The Discovery Institute is the leading organization in the ID community, and this is what they have to say about what ID is:

So how do we unpack this? They list natural law and intelligent design as separate entities. They also contrast intelligent design and natural selection. I read this as saying intelligent design is not evolution. Am I getting this wrong?


For those of us just joining in, can we have a bit more summary of how the discussion got to this point? What meaning is assigned to who/what/where, and why can’t we believe in which???

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It appears you would be disavowing almost all of ID then. What would even be left?

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@Ashwin_s appears to have been arguing that evolution and design/creation are intrinsically incompatible. He seems to argue that as soon as we start talking about “God creating through evolution” (@swamidass) or “God guided evolution” (@gbrooks9) , it is by definition not consistent with evolution in mainstream science. This is an old chestnut though.

I’m pretty sure @Ashwin_s knows this is an absurd gambit, as we’ve discussed this before. I suppose he wasn’t to charge the windmills one more time. The bigger question isn’t about @Ashwin_s per se, but about the common perception among most of the shock troops in ID that this is the case. It goes directly against the statements of ID leaders, and ignore the fact that Behe and Denton are theistic evolutionists.

I usually refrain from using large quotes, but I think this one is worth it. The quote is from George Romanes’ essay about the evidence for evolution, and was written in 1882. The one thing that strikes you right away is that he is using the phrase “intelligent design” in 1882. I will also say that I don’t fully agree with the strident tone that Romanes uses, but I think his position is at least worth considering as part of the larger discussion in this thread.


The scientists?

Believe me, I understand the sentiment you are expressing. I am personally searching for some variant of ID that can be compatible with common descent. Can’t say I’ve found it yet or how it would be different from theistic evolution. In case you haven’t noticed, I am very circumspect when it comes to what I say about ID.


Evolution is a process. (“Descent with modification.”) Natural selection is a mechanism which supposedly accounts for the process.

Evolution might take place for a combination of reasons, including a number of natural processes, and also possibly including intelligent direction or pre-planning.

Natural selection (and by extension other “undirected processes”) is opposed only when it is understood that natural selection (or natural selection plus other “undirected processes”) is the exclusive cause of the process of introducing new species.

Thus, Behe can grant that natural selection, and mutation, and other things, do play a role in generating new species, but that something else – design – is also involved. He is classed as an ID supporter because of his insistence on design. Jerry Coyne, on the other hand, insists that design is not involved, so he is not an ID supporter. Both are “evolutionists” in that both believe that species have been modified over time to become new species (i.e., there is genetic continuity between the new species and old), but Behe, in addition to being an evolutionist, is a design proponent, whereas Coyne is an evolutionist instead of a design proponent.

So the opposition is not between design and evolution (where evolution is understood as a process involving descent with modification), but between design and entirely undirected causes of biological change.

This leaves ID as a group which is internally divided regarding notions such as descent with modification, common descent, universal common descent, etc., since these notions can be retained or jettisoned within a design perspective.

If you remember your Venn diagrams, you could draw two circles, one representing “evolution” (defined as “descent with modification”) and one representing “design”, and there would be an overlap zone whether the two circles intersected. In the overlap zone would be all ID people who accept common descent to a significant degree, e.g., Mike Behe and Mike Denton and, depending on how you interpret certain statements, possible Rick Sternberg, and, perhaps in the past and maybe even now, Ann Gauger, as well as many lesser-known folks (such as Dave Scot who used to moderate UD).

Outside of the overlap zone, the “design” circle would include creationists, both Old and New Earth, and the “evolution” circle would include those who understand undirected processes to be entirely sufficient to explain all organic change (Coyne, Dawkins, Myers, Harris, Krauss, etc.). Thus, Ken Ham would be outside the overlap zone within the design circle, and and Dawkins would be outside it within the evolution circle.

The evolutionary creationists of BioLogos and the ASA are harder to diagram; one would need two different Venn diagrams for them, a “science” Venn diagram and a “theology” Venn diagram. In the “science” Venn diagram there would be no overlap between the circles, but in the “theology” Venn diagram there would be. This oddity is required because the ECs claim that they believe in design when wearing their theologians’ cap, but not when wearing their scientists’ cap. When wearing their scientists’ cap, they treat evolution as occurring wholly due to natural processes, and, given the way they understand “nature” within the enterprise of natural science, that means undirected natural processes (undirected as far as science can now or could ever determine).

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Certainly not most their scientists. Which of them do you think would remain?

I have not noticed. Has anyone else?

And herein lies the contradiction:

@eddie, you take no-ID people to task all the time for “misrepresenting” ID on this point. Would you please consider showing us how to set @Ashwin_s straight?

Probably for the same reason that you already suspect, i.e., that many people come to ID having previously embraced creationism, and retain that commitment to creationism while adopting characteristic ID methods of argument. Many of them cannot imagine that descent with modification – significant modification – could be true. They see the mechanisms and the process as a package deal which must be accepted or rejected together.

On this point, it is interesting that hard-core atheists and the hard-core Genesis literalists are in agreement – that evolution is a package deal. People like Behe strike people in both camps as fuzzy-minded compromisers, because they don’t think it’s a package deal; they think that “evolution” is a notion which needs some qualification before it can be assessed. So they get hit from different sides.

You will be familiar with this phenomenon, Joshua, since your view (especially on Genealogical Adam) has been bashed from both the “evolutionist” side and the “creationist” side. When one offers an idea which requires adjusting the vocabulary or the criteria usually employed in these debates, one is likely to be misunderstood and rejected, at least initially. It takes a lot of work to make oneself even understood, let alone accepted, when others are working under preconceptions that need correcting.


Again, I am reading that as saying intelligent design and evolution are separate things. While species may have adaptations produced by one or the other process, they are still separate processes.

I think that is a bit deceptive. When we say “evolution” in this context we mean the modern theory of evolution which does not include guidance by an intelligence. The theory is based on naturally occurring mechanism that occur spontaneously in biological species.

Evolution is more than common descent. Evolution is natural selection, random mutation with respect to fitness, speciation, and the like.

Hehe, that is right. I call it the YEC-ID-Dawkins axis of the Origins Debate. Self-reinforcing because it is built on the same premises. BioLogos might be dropped in there too, if we are talking about historical Adam, but that is more complex.

Evolutionary science is silent about design, which is different than denying it. God could have guided, or not, but science does not tell us.

Honestly, in my view, design is a side show any ways, much like UCD. Historically speaking, it has always been the theology of Adam that is non-negotiable. Argue about design if you must, but solving the challenges to Adam actually moves the needle.

Do you know the difference between felt/stated needs and real/true needs?

And I am still waiting for this:

That’s what I mean by science not including design.

At least on its face, ID seems to be making a scientific claim, not a metaphysical one. They are saying that ID is detectable through the scientific method and it is distinguishable from natural mechanisms. This is quite different from the metaphysical claim you are making.


It’s not deceptive if the person writing or speaking makes very clear what he means by “evolution.” I always make clear what I mean by “evolution” – a process of descent with modification which may be entirely driven by natural causes but may also include some direct divine involvement, or indirect divine involvement via the use of “front-loading.” I fault Discovery mainly for inconsistency in vocabulary rather than deliberate deception. This inconsistency is, I believe, caused by the fact that Discovery is a big tent and “evolution” means different things to different people in that tent. See my reply to Joshua above.

ID as a theory is a limited thing, having to do with design detection. But ID as a movement is more amorphous and harder to capture, because it is an alliance of people with differing views on major things (age of the earth, common descent, interpretation of the Bible). Most the difficulties of ID are caused by the fact that it oscillates, in its public presentation, between being a genuine theory of design in nature and being the position of an advocacy organization which has cultural and social concerns as well as purely scientific ones.

I’ve consistently tried to push ID people I know to focus on design theory, perfecting methods of design detection, etc. rather than trying to prove that no evolution ever happened. And there is a lively discussion within the ID community about this very issue. Recently I have been in touch with a number of ID supporters, some well-known, some less-known, who think that ID has often invested too much in anti-evolution arguments, and that in fact there is strong evidence for common descent, though perhaps not for common descent from a single ancestor. How these internal discussions will play out in the long run, no one can predict, but I think that in principle they could lead to the more frequent appearance of versions of ID in which ID and common descent are blended. But I don’t think ID will ever cease to be a big tent, so detractors of ID will always be able to charge that ID is too driven by “creationism.” So I don’t think it will ever be satisfying to some of its critics.


I have yet to see you push that with ID people here. Can you show us what that looks like?

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To this observer, the inconsistency seems to go deeper than just the vocabulary.


It actually is true. I think we are going to “win” this one though.

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