Theological Premises in Design Arguments?

And yet, @Eddie, nonetheless, virtually all of the financial and political support for classic ID comes from Creationist networks… not from the “Prometheus-is-Real!” wing of the Sci-Fi industry!

The reason is obviously political, rather than logical.

1 Like

It’s not surprising that many creationists would support ID, given that ID argues what creationism has always argued – that the deep complexity of the organic world couldn’t have arisen by chance alone.

The difference is that the creationists employ the Bible in their arguments, whereas the ID people eschew all Biblical references. That makes ID arguments more palatable for a number of people who don’t regard Genesis as a reliable account of science or history. As a youth, I read a fair bit of “Creation Science”, and detested it, because it slopped together rational arguments for design with fundamentalist piety. I liked some of the rational arguments, but couldn’t abide the literalism and fundamentalism. When ID came along, I was immediately interested, because here were arguments for design that made no reference to the Bible and had none of the tone of Creation Science literature. I read Behe’s first book, and there was nothing about Genesis, Adam and Eve, the Flood, etc. It was all biochemical arguments. Later, I read Dembski and Meyer, and it was the same – arguments about methodology and probability theory and so on, with no reference to the Bible. In fact, ID writing fit into a tradition of Darwin-skeptical literature which had always had Catholic, Jewish, and agnostic representatives as well as Protestant ones, and was never focused on promoting Bible-piety.

The fact that literalists and fundamentalists have supported and funded ID has never troubled me as much as it troubles some others. Discovery has strongly promoted books by non-fundamentalist, even evolutionist authors such as Behe and Denton, so it’s evident that the fundamentalist support for ID isn’t dictating to Discovery what it can publish or support. The fundamentalists who give money to Discovery know that Behe and others aren’t onside with them, and they accept that.

The fundamentalists who can’t abide people like Behe and Denton don’t give money to Discovery; they give money to Ken Ham.

It’s actually sociologically remarkable that ID has been able to hold its “big tent” together for so long – over 20 years now. It shows that the anti-Darwinian movement in the USA is broader-based than many people thought it was. Literalist readers of Genesis may be the numerically greatest part of the ID community, but there is more to it than that. Some serious scientists and philosophers are involved.

Indeed, I think that is why the counterattack against ID has been even more hostile than that against fundamentalism. It’s because ID represents more than fundamentalist thinking, it’s because ID has proponents who have actually produced some scientific research, it’s because ID arguments about Darwinism are starting to generate echoes in the mainstream scientific literature (the scientists involved are always careful to say they aren’t ID proponents, but some of their reasoning is akin to that of ID writers), that ID is seen as threatening to some people in a way that Ken Ham isn’t. Ken Ham the mainstream scientists dislike, but because the average American (from the non-fundamentalist mainstream of society) thinks that Ham is an ignoramus when it comes to science, and because the general public (outside of diehard literalists) doesn’t like Ken Ham’s dour, party-pooper personality, the scientists aren’t too worried that Ham will have much influence outside of the community already committed to his views. But when manifestly intelligent and well-trained people like Behe, Meyer, Denton, Berlinski, Gauger, and Sternberg enter the fray, people who are much less socially maladroit at communicating to non-fundamentalist Americans, and when non-ID proponents such as Turner and Shapiro and Tour (purportedly on the short list for a Nobel Prize a few years back) are saying things that resemble some of the points made by ID folks, the biological establishment perceives a greater threat to its orthodoxy, and so it reacts more viciously.

Those of us who have studied religion find this all familiar. The village kook who says unorthodox things about the Trinity can be safely ignored, as long as most people regard him as the village kook and don’t mind what he says, but someone like Arius or Pelagius is dangerous, because he is intelligent and well-informed, and might well influence learned as well as mass opinion. So the Church always made a point of crushing people like Arius or Pelagius. So the scientific community will send an unimportant lightweight like Bill Nye the Science Guy to debate Ken Ham, but when it’s Behe or Meyer or Dembski they will send the Dobzhansky-trained Francisco Ayala or the Ivy League prof Ken Miller. It’s quite obvious who, in their view, presents the greater threat.

1 Like

You make this specific slice of demographics sound more numerous than 3 people in a van and my Uncle Tommy!

In the view of most… the Venn diagram shows a giant circle within a slightly bigger circle of creationists!

You aren’t really trying to “sell” ID as a viable philosophical camp as distinct from Creationists?

Up to this moment I never considered you as a Con Man. Your next few posts will help me defuse, or confirm, my new suspicions.

Wow! “Con Man.” There’s a phrase I haven’t heard in ages! My parents’ generation used to use it all the time, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone under 40 or 50 use the phrase. You’re showing your age, George. :slight_smile:

How “most” people draw their Venn diagrams doesn’t concern me. Only the correct Venn diagram concerns me. And the only people capable of drawing a correct one are those who know large numbers of ID folks fairly well, from long and frequent contact.

A Venn diagram showing ID and Creationism would have to be refined, with three circles, one for ID, one for OEC, and one for YEC. The overlap zone between OEC and YEC would be significant, but not as large as one might expect, because of the sharp differences between OECs and YECs over the age of the earth, limited microevolution, and literalness in reading Genesis (the OECs tending more to concordism, the YECs to treating the words as photographic and audio recordings of past events). The overlap zones between both OEC and YEC and ID would be larger, because virtually all OECs are onside with ID, and most YECs as well (there are some YEC holdouts who can’t forgive ID for allowing evolutionists into the tent, and allowing Jews, Muslims, agnostics, and so on).

The ID-alone part would be relatively small, but would contain some of the most important ID leaders, such as Behe and Denton (and possibly Sternberg, based on his last public statements). It would contain virtually all Catholic ID supporters, of whom there are many, including several key Discovery people. It would also contain Jewish ID supporters such as Klinghoffer, a number of Muslim ID supporters (especially in countries like Turkey), and even a few Hindu ID supporters I know of. It would also contain some agnostic ID supporters, Deist ID supporters, and believe it or not, I even know of one ID supporter who calls himself an atheist (not a Dawkins-style atheist, but an “agnostic atheist”). There are also a number of “undeclareds” at Discovery who I believe, from private conversation, to belong in the ID-alone part, i.e., ID but not creationist.

If you include “not quite ID proponents, but sympathetic friends and allies”, then the number would increase, because people like David Berlinski (certainly no creationist, but an agnostic) would be included.

So yes, this group (ID but non-creationist) is larger than 3 people in a van and your Uncle Tommy. Even at Discovery alone the contingent is larger than that, and among the hundreds of other ID folks I’ve talked to over the past 11 years, there are many more.

In any case, I was talking about potential converts to ID more than current defenders of it. My point was that as soon as you say the word “Jesus” in a book on biological origins, you automatically lose millions of readers, who will say, “This is religion, not science, and I’m interested only in science.” That’s why Creation Science arguments rarely won any adherents who were not already fundamentalists. It’s because ID books don’t insist that you have to accept Jesus that they can be read without religious discomfort by secular accountants, secular lawyers, secular schoolteachers, secular civil servants, etc. An agnostic dentist who wouldn’t be caught dead with The Genesis Flood on his bookshelf might have a slot for Darwin’s Black Box or Darwin’s Doubt.

I grew up among, and still live among, educated, successful middle-class people who think of creationism and fundamentalism as religious opiates for the intellectually and culturally challenged. There is no way on earth that they are going to read a book about origins that smells of literalism or fundamentalism. But they can read the books of Behe and Meyer without ever seeing the name of Jesus or the word “Bible”. They might not be convinced by the arguments of Behe and Meyer, but at least no Jesus-talk scares them away from reading them. So if you want to challenge the Darwinian account of origins in front of these people, ID literature, not creationist literature, is the way to go.

Behe’s first book sold, I think, over a quarter of a million copies. If even only 1% of those who liked the book were non-creationists (a conservative estimate), that’s 2,500 – enough to fill over 600 of your 4-person vans. So your estimate is a wee bit skimpy. And of course, so is 2,500, as an estimate of how many “undecideds” have been won over to ID after reading ID arguments.

1 Like


The point I was making is that there are relatively few ID proponents who are NOT already predisposed to design coming from God.

So the fact “design narratives” are devoid of God-talk is not particularly reassuring. There is no significant Sci-Fi or Prometheus faction within I.D.


1 Like

I presume you meant to write: “who are not already predisposed”.

Well, if you are talking about personal inclinations, I agree. Most ID proponent are already predisposed toward Christianity, just as most full-time evolutionary biologists (not just any old biologist interested in evolution, but full-time specialists in evolutionary theory) are already predisposed to agnosticism or atheism.

But I don’t see why that matters. The point is that ID as a theoretical venture could keep on going if every YEC dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow. (Funding is another matter, but I’m talking about the intellectual aspect of ID, not its social milieu.) We see that Behe, Denton and others make no use at all of creationist readings of the Bible, or any part of Christian theology, in their arguments. If I disproved the Trinity or the Resurrection of Jesus tomorrow, not one line of Darwin’s Black Box or Darwin’s Doubt would have to be changed. That’s not the case for, say, The Genesis Flood by Morris or the writings of Duane Gish. Take away the Biblical commitments, and all of Creation Science falls to the ground. (Or if anything at all is left of Creation Science, it’s unrelated to the Bible, and already better covered by ID writings.)

But if you want examples of ID leaders who seem “godless”, there was Dave Scot, who for many years was chief moderator on Uncommon Descent. He might have been a Deist of some sort, but I doubt it. He at times actively discouraged people on UD from talking about God and tried to push the discussion toward scientific evidence for design. My bet is that he was an agnostic. That Bill Dembski, a solid Protestant evangelical Christian, would appoint an agnostic to run his ID website suggests that ID doesn’t require Christian convictions, that its intellectual center of gravity is not Christian theology, but methods of design detection applied to the investigation of nature.

Sure, most ID people have a religious bias. So does everyone in these discussions. At BioLogos they have a bias toward liberal, post-Enlightenment reformulations of Christian theology. At Panda’s Thumb they have a bias toward atheism. Etc. That doesn’t invalidate the notion of applying design detection methods to the study of nature.

Yes… I’ve fixed my typo and added NOT to my original text. The reason this matters is the first thing that would happen if a court ever accepted the ID argument that science can detect miraculous processes… it would be leveraged by religious motivations, rather than whatever motivations are lodged in the Sci-Fi ethic!

1 Like

Where do you find this “ID argument”? I’ve never seen it.

I’ve seen ID arguments that infer design from the arrangements of nature, but none that claim to detect miraculous processes in action. I’ve got about thirty books by ID authors here; if you can tell me the page numbers in the books where the miraculous processes are supposedly detected, I’ll look them up.

Anyhow, this concern about what the courts would say has nothing to do with anything important, but is an artifact of the clumsy, decades-old system of American science education. The only reason there are all these court cases is that some parents don’t want their kids taught evolution in ninth grade, where science is compulsory. Remove the evolution unit from ninth-grade biology to tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grade, where science is no longer compulsory, and virtually all opposition to teaching evolution in the schools would stop – and so would most of the court cases.

But American science educators don’t have enough administrative imagination to adopt so simple a solution. They think the order of presentation in high school science courses must be the same for all eternity as it was when it was set up in the late 1950s as a result of Sputnik. It’s part of their Ten Commandments of Science Education that biology must be taught in ninth grade and must include an evolution unit. Rather than change “the way it’s always been done,” they would let the culture war drag on and on, at a cost of billions of dollars over the decades as school boards and state education authorities are tied up in endless quarrels and debates over this subject, and as lawyers laugh all the way to the bank when they are paid to litigate scientific questions (about which they know nothing) before the courts. It’s idiocy. Pull that three-week evolution unit out of ninth grade, push it back into a later grade, and the culture war over evolution in the schools would be over.

It is often that ID attracts straw-man arguments.

1 Like


You are facile enough with terminology to develop your own “best phrasing”. What do you think is the most ambitious claim that I.D. can make?

ID proponents claim:

(a) that in principle, it is at least possible that design might be detected in nature;
(b) that there is “methodological parity” between design and non-design explanations (cf. Meyer and Nelson especially, and Meyer’s writing for the explanation of the term);
( c ) that strong evidence for design in nature has already been found (see books by Behe, Meyer, Dembski, Denton and others).

That is all that they claim as ID theorists. If they make other claims, about God or Christianity or the heretical theology of certain TE/ECs, they do that out of their own personal religious conceptions, without any backing of ID theory for doing so. And of course if they wade into social criticism of modern American life, they do that, again, out of their personal political and social conceptions, without any backing of ID theory for doing so.

Regarding ID, I agree with all of points a through c, but I don’t regard the evidence referred to in c as sufficient to “prove” design, but only to strongly suggest it.

Regarding theological matters, I happen to agree that in many cases the personal theology of the ID folks is closer to traditional Christian orthodoxy than that of many TE/EC folks, but that is a personal theological judgment of mine, not something I could establish based on ID arguments for design in nature.

Can you identify at least on leading ID person that has claimed that design is possible to detect in nature in principle, but we have not detected it? In every case I can think of, they claim that design has been detected several times over.



I think most of them have in fact made claims to have detected design. I separated the “possibility” claim as distinct, because a number of atheist/materialist and a number of TE/ECs have denied even the possibility of detecting design in nature, either on the grounds of “methodological naturalism” or on theological grounds (i.e., they are offended by the idea of a God who would leave discernible traces of his existence in the arrangements of nature).

Let me put it this way: It is one thing to argue that design detection might be possible, but that the ID folks have failed in practice to come up with anything convincing; it is another to argue that design detection is in principle impossible, because science as such simply cannot deal with the notion of “design”. Those who hold to the latter view ought to think that refuting specific ID claims of design is pointless, since the whole search for design rests on a misunderstanding of science. They would just write off ID as philosophy or aesthetics, not science, and refuse to even read the particular arguments of Behe, etc. But in fact the opponents of design have almost never been consistent like that; the same opponents will argue on Monday that Behe’s arguments for design have failed for technical reasons X and Y and Z (implying that if Behe were a better scientist he might actually find evidence of design, which they would be duty-bound to consider), and on Tuesday that the whole project of finding design in nature is inherently non-scientific and so ID is a waste of time for scientists to even respond to.

It is for the above reason that I included point (a). If point (a) is not granted, then there is no reason why anyone should engage with ID proponents at all.

However, I think at least some of them have not actually claimed to have established design, but only to regard it as an intriguing scientific possibility. I am not sure that Sternberg has ever argued that design has been demonstrated. He has criticized neo-Darwinism, but I don’t think he has made arguments about particular systems along the lines of Behe, Meyer, etc. I think he is more interested in the meta-questions. If so, then he has only affirmed (a) and maybe (b), but not ( c ).

Certainly some of their allies would fall into that group. Berlinski, who is a Fellow of the DI, I believe, does not claim that design has been demonstrated, and as far as I know has offered no design arguments of his own… He merely thinks that the idea deserves a hearing.


As I read ID literature, the premise is only that final causation might be evident, ie that “a designer” would act intentionally rather than fortuitously. That seems a lot less than a “theological premise”, but it’s not that controversial even if viewed theologically. To say that God is like humans in creating towards goals is scarcely anthropomorphic, except in relation to Brahma or Tiamat…

If arguments about design are invalid simply because they invoke finality, then of course ID is outlawed, but so is theistic evolution.


Eddie, you hold up books by Behe, Meyer, Dembski and Denton as profound works of science or philoshophy. They are niether. One hundred years (or perhaps in ten years) from now, none of these books will be considered profound, insightful or a must read for students of the day. These books are doomed to be on the strap heap of history of the folly of 20th century, early 21th century thought.


They will certainly be important in understanding the relationship between faith in science from at least 1990-2010, including the Dover Trial and Kansas Board of Education Hearings. I have no doubt that historians will be reading Darwin’s Black Box and Signature in the Cell and Privileged Planet. From a sociological and political point of view, the story of ID is fascinating. This is certainly not the "trash heap:.

1 Like

Maybe not trash heap, but certainly on the 50 cent table at yard sales.

1 Like


Thank you for YOUR phrasings:

Your point A is sufficient to point the way:

(a) that in principle, it is at least possible that design might be detected in nature;

This is the very core of what the opposition to ID is about. Its not about design. It’s about an over-stated ability of Science to endorse or confirm Theology or Teleology.

1 Like

Ummm … how did you get from “it is possible that design might be detected” to “an over-stated ability of science to confirm theology or teleology”?

How do you justify moving from a humble claim of “maybe” to “that’s an overstatement”?


The position is rejected outright.

If you can find ID folks who also reject it outright… Many Christians here would be in-sync with them.