Intelligent Design is Creationism 2.0

Intelligent Design (ID), according to Jason Rosenhouse (Among the Creationists), is a new form of creationism and is not mainstream science. Before we get to how he draws this conclusion, a few points need to be made:

First, the fundamental problem Christians and creationists have had with evolution is the notion of randomness or chance or undirected, non-teleological development of the universe and especially of humans. Darwin’s “common descent” was not the problem; the problem was “natural selection,” for that has the idea of undirected evolution. In other words, at work from the outset was toleration for common descent and even an old earth — and hence Genesis 1 and young earth were not part of the debate — but what was also at work for Christians was the belief that God had designed this world and that humans were special.

Is Intelligent Design mainline science or a form of creationism?

Charles Hodge, no friend of liberalism, saw evolutionary theory of Darwin as atheism because of the “exclusion of design from nature” (78). The Catholic Church was both quieter and less tolerant, but the result of the 19th and most of the 20th Centuries (until Scopes, until Everson v. Board of Education) was not so much common descent or the age of the earth but non-teleological evolution.

Second, tied to this was the rise of German higher criticism and American fundamentalism’s cultural battle — and evolution got into this mix — and it all became politicized. Evolution vs. creation became, in one generation, culture war (not science, not theology).

This leads Rosenhouse to a consideration of ID. Rosenhouse’s contention is the evolution counts not just on wonderful displays of adaptation but the things that don’t fit — the “senseless signs of history” — like weak lower backs, rupturing appendices, and wisdom teeth.

ID folks do not appeal — as do creationists — to Genesis 1, to Noah’s flood, or the age of the earth. They appeal to irreducible complexity and the signs of not just intention or purpose but of some kind of intelligence that alone explains what we encounter in natural history.

Rosenhouse: “My own view is that the similarities between ID and creationism are far more significant than the differences” (84). How so?

1. ID folks dispute YEC, and at times vehemently, but Rosenhouse contends this misunderstands the origins of ID.

2. Creationism attempted to establish itself as a kind of science (Scopes trial, etc), but lost and it was determined by the courts that creation science is not science.

3. ID stepped in after creation science folks lost, and the damning evidence that shows ID was a form of creationism is found in the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover case in which Barbara Forrest showed that the original version of ID (“intelligence” and “designer” etc) had creation and creator.  It was in essence another version of the “two-model” (evolution, creation-science) approach to public education.

4. The findings were that ID was not science, that it was motivated by religion and permitted supernatural causation, irreducible complexity had other better explanations, and it was not established through peer-reviewed scientific studies. In other words, “ID was just a legally savvy version of creationism” (90).

Rosenhouse proves his mettle for me with this: Is ID creationism?

A. If this means age of earth, sudden creation of life, reality of Noah’s flood, then ID is not creationism.

B. If you see creationism as a cultural battle against science that demeans religion, then ID joins at the hip with creationism. It is “only superficially different from traditional creationism, while its morally outraged rhetoric is identical to it” (90). (Rosenhouse has a whole chp, chp 16, on the “unsavory rhetorical practices” of ID.)

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  • I’m with Rosenhouse (on evolution, though I am not an atheist).

    I am appalled that where Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations, we would instead waste time picking arguments with scientists. Creationists implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) call scientists dishonest, arrogant and unscrupulous. Not only is this unfair, it makes Christ appear mean, impatient and unkind. We are, after all, his ambassadors in the world.

    Furthermore creationists frequently misunderstand the basis of science. These involve an open mind, searching for evidence, forming an explanatory hypothesis, and then testing the hypothesis. The testing is done by making predictions on the assumption the hypothesis is correct and then checking whether the predictions can be proven to be false.

    Creationists on the other hand begin with some assumptions based on the Bible and look for evidence to support the assumptions. This is the opposite of the scientific method.

    Jesus rarely resorted to name-calling. Instead, he revealed spiritual truth by telling illustrative stories and by his life and actions. He said only what he heard the Father say and did only what he saw the Father do. He loved without distinction. We are supposed to follow him.

    What if scientists are wrong? That’s easy. Love them just as they are, deal justly with them. Show them the love of Jesus. Be filled with the Spirit whose fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

    Creationists of all colours (I include ID) sometimes seem to have fruit of the opposite kind.

    Chris Jefferies, St Neots, UK

  • I don’t see that Natural Selection is necessarily unguided – that presumes that the conditions leading to the survival of those most suited are random. Indeed, how can we even say that ‘random mutations’ are actually random? How would science be able to tell the difference between random and guided? I don’t think it can, because it doesn’t speak to the issue of causal agency on that scale.

  • @AndrewF:
    You’re on to something. See Al Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I think there is a lot of truth to what Rosenhouse is saying and I especially like Chris Jeffries comments. But I do get a little nervous when the ‘focus’ seems to be on the nasty and mean behavior of the ID people. Nobody seems to be asking, why are some of them so ticked? Who threw the first punch or started the fight? It seems like the underlying assumption is ID folks neither know science nor grace. Although there is certainly need for improvement in both of these areas, again, is the real issue simply non-creationist science is the genuine and real deal which showers grace and the creationists (1) don’t know what they are talking about; and (2) are the only ones with a chip on their shoulder?

    All I am saying is I think the issues may be bigger than what things might appear to those who are outsiders to these groups.

  • Scot McKnight


    Well, I purposely did not make the rhetoric the focus of this post; Rosenhouse doesn’t either, but he’s routinely put off by the rhetoric, and he has a whole chp on this — and I hope those who read it learn how best to interact critically. So, I don’t think the rhetoric is the focus.

    The bigger issues are the ones addressed by Rosenhouse and many others.

  • AHH

    CGC @4,

    It is certainly true that some scientists who crusade for evolution and against ID (Richard Dawkins, for example) are at least as ungracious as the ID movement. But I think we have to ask whether, since the ID movement is mostly Christians, we should hope to hold them to a higher standard.

    It is also important to recognize that “ID” is not monolithic. Rosenhouse’s diagnosis of ID as primarily anti-evolution culture-war propaganda is pretty accurate for most popular manifestations of ID, and for its most visible proponents (like the Discovery Institute). But there are a few people out there who would fall under the ID label, like Mike Gene or to some extent Michael Behe, who are more gracious and are trying to do real science. The temptation (for me and for others) is to throw the baby out with the bathwater and let my disgust with 98% of the movement keep me from hearing the 2% that might be worth listening to.

  • GMac

    The foundation of a position is important, but it is not necessarily defining, in that, even if ID started out as a form of Creation-Science, that’s not to say it couldn’t have evolved (no pun intended) into a science.

    As Chris Jefferies said, the reason why Creationism is not a essentially scientific is because it presupposes the authenticity of a young-earth reading of Genesis and goes out to try and show how this can be verified in nature.

    The departure point of ID, on the other hand, seems to be more reactionary. It attempts to show through scientific means that the theory of evolution does not hold. So there is some value in this, as a counter position to a sceintific theory that by nature is falsifiable.

    The problem with ID, for me, is that it thinks it’s more than this. Would it exist if the theory of evolution did not? And so, what would it look like?

    I do, however, believe that it could be adapted to become a more complete scientific position, but in doing so, it would need to open itself up to losing some of its support, particularly from the conservative groups.

  • Scot McKnight

    AHH, good, gracious point. Thanks.

  • scotmcknight

    GMac, I agree: it could develop into more respectable science, but it is telling nonetheless what we see in the original text.

  • T

    When Rosenhouse asks if ID is creationism, he’s essentially asking, “Is it science or is it religion?” The problem I have with these questions, and their answers, is that they still assume the Enlightenment’s either/or split of knowledge, with the unfortunate context that scientific knowledge is the only kind deserving of the name.

    ID “was motivated by religion and permitted supernatural causation.” The horror! What does it mean, or matter, for a theory to be “motivated” by religion, or by atheism for that matter? Do I need to know what motivated Darwin in order to evaluate his theories?

    Regarding the idea that ID “permits” supernatural causation—which makes folks scream, “That’s not science!” This is fine if we aren’t equating science with knowledge. It’s fine if science is going to stand alongside philosophy, religion and other pursuits of truth. But the combination of science’s assumption (no supernatural causes for anything) and the attempted monopolization of “truth” by (naturalistic) science is unacceptable.

    If I was going to put ID in a category, it would be neither science nor religion, but philosophy. ID, at its best, is a big-picture analysis of all we know, and don’t know, about the world (and why and how), with admissions of all the things that science has proven, but also no qualms about being frank about the strengths and limitations of the scientific method. ID recognizes the value of the naturalistic blinders we put on in scientific work, but recognizes that the blinders are a mere tool, and one of many as we evaluate, reason and discover truth.

    We need more integrated pursuits of understanding. We need more frank admissions of science’s strengths and inherent weaknesses. ID, at its best, is a necessary and helpful part of that. Science can’t explain or prove or even comment on everything when it assumes away much from the outset.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Scot #5, I agree but it seems to be where the conversation ends up nevertheless.

    Ahh, I think you make some great points. I only hope it’s more than 2 percent that is worth listening to.

    Gmac, would ID exist if there was no evolution? 🙂 Wow, what a great question. I can think of other areas where this could apply too! 🙂

    T, I think it is important to speak about the limites of science and blind spots. So when science over-reaches, some critique is good. But I also think there’s a massive log in ID’s respective eye when it comes to doing science. They are certaintly not immune to having their own blindspots, especially when it comes to more of what they are against than what they are for.

  • T


    Where I see the energy for these debates is public education. People care about what their children are taught about fundamental issues of life’s origins, and also about how we arrive at “truth.”

    That aside, what do you think of my suggestion that ID is, at its best, philosophy? I don’t know how many philosophy courses you took, or how much you’ve studied it (I’m certainly no expert), but I think the origins debate, especially as it concerns the education of the very young, could be advanced by discussing ID theories (and other questions of knowledge) in a philosophy environment.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Chris (1)
    Spot on mate. Priorities, and asking the right questions. 

    ID is, at heart, concord ism without admitting it openly. The idea that, somehow, the Bible is telling us how God made the precarious yet robust forms of life we know or know about is it’s foundation. Yet, with Scripture, our problem is largely interpretive. Imagining the Bible as a large data set provided by our Father/Creator through human beings, the first things we need to get right are the questions we ask of this complex story. The core of the story seems to be God’s interactions with and thereby his self-revelation to human kind. It would be helpful to have a list of questions theologians and biblical scholars think are legitimate (or not) when we query Scripture. Just because Scripture has it’s origin in God and his Spirit speaks through it directly to us, does not mean we get to have all our questions answered by Scripture. In fact,  we don’t even get to set the order of priority of the legitimate questions! 

    Mark Twain was correct in observing that the parts of Scripture he did not understand caused him far less difficulty than the parts he understood all too well.

  • Ben

    People create people, human races create human races.Earth is a very ancient planet upon which there have been many humanities created by different human races. The evidence is everywhere, in history, traces in the religious texts, in our capabilities in science and not least the appearances of the so called Ufos throughout history but particularly since 1945 and Hiroshima – oh my god the kids have found the matches! This first use of nuclear technology in weapons of war is that nodal point in the development of a humanity. So happens that the Bible has the time line in a somewhat compressed format; c12000 years of progressive evolution of design as evidenced by the theory of Evolution I, slightly overlapping with a further c1320O years to 1945.Through understanding this hypothesis one can understand the ‘good measure’ intention behind , all the world religions.So we can respect the past without living in it. Ultimately, this is about the spiritualisation of science.
    We are on our own but not alone. The sooner our humanity understands the lower the chances of self-destruction, which has happened in the past to other humanities, for the self-evident reasons which we can well understand

  • Scot, I am glad you are openly and thoughtfully addressing this aspect of the debate. I worked passionately as a publicist for some of the leading I’d books in the 90s and did not see myself as promoting creationism at all, but rather as actively challenging naturalism as the only legitimate foundaion of scientific inquiry. In this respect I felt my work promoting Phillip Johnson in particlar was a kind of popularization of Alvin Plantinga’s masterful work against naturalis. Ion the decade-plus since then I have seen much in ID movement to trouble me about some of the people’s real agenda, a feeling not diminished by Jay Richards coauthoring of a new book with James Robison (!) Timed for the election season. All of which is to say I am ambivalent about my little role in this movement and I appreciate reading your thoughts on it. Peace.

  • John Inglis

    “ID is, at heart, concord ism without admitting it openly. ” Not. The statement is merely a glib opinion.

    T is correct to note that ID raises philosophical issues. But that is a rather trite fact because so does science. Indeed, philosophy is inescapable anytime we humans try to ascertain what is true. ID is not merely philosophy, and neither is science (I’m not suggesting that T was arguing that ID is merely philosophy, though T did argue that it was neither science nor religion).

    I would also contend (against AHH) that Rosenhouse’s analysis is accurate vis a vis the Discovery Institute or that 98% of the movement is disgusting (atheists say the same thing about Christianity in general, but that does not make it true or relevant, and is a logical fallacy to boot).

    What is the relevance of the origins of ID, other than being representative of another logical fallacy? Many fields of science have odd origins and then changed substantially. What of it? Plate tectonics was decried by all “real” geologists, who also noted that it’s proponet was not a “real” geologist. The Freudian origins of psychology (not psychology’s only source, but an important one) does not mean that psychology is not now a scientific task and field.

    The Scopes trial was not an attempt by creationism to establish itself as a science.

    Kitzmiller is rife with error, but even apart from that what does it matter if ID speaks of a creator? Does the fact that materialist science and scientists use evolution as evidence supporting atheism discredit their science? Of course not. Is it even relevant to their science? No, unless it blinds them to appropriate conclusions or restricts their enquiry. Moreover, if biological design is detectable in addition to mechanical and other types of design, isn’t appropriate to enquire about the nature of the design and how it got there?

    ID is not “just” a legally savy version of creationism.

    But of course, as McKnight observes, it really depends on what one means by the term “creationism” which is a multi-valent term. Moreover, it is not helpful to think that words alone can help analysis. Words are merely labels, empty cups into which meaning is poured. The important aspect, for the purpose of analysis, is to understand what concepts we wish to talk about and why, and then to define terms carefully to enable analysis to proceed (this is part of why analytical philosophy is so successful).

    Rosenhouse thinks his visist to “creationist” conferences and his book demonstrate that “Twenty Years After Darwin on Trial, ID is Dead” and that–of course–ID is not science, and cannot be science. Rosenhouse writes on his blog, “I worried that people would find that [ID] sufficiently appealing to avoid looking too carefully at the details, rather like it’s easier to just enjoy a chocolate covered Oreo than it is to think about what it’s doing to your innards. But that’s not what happened. Even leaving aside the blow of Kitzmiller v. Dover, ID has simply collapsed under the weight of its own vacuity.”

    I suggest that Rosenhouse take of his ideological blinders and also read a bit more widely.


  • Patrick

    I think deformities can be fobbed off on God since He takes credit for them in the biblical text.

    I don’t understand evolution at all, I do think if it’s valid, God guided it from day 1. That may not be what the ID folks have in mind, if it is, it makes good logic to me.

  • val

    ‘The findings were that ID was not science, that it was motivated by religion and permitted supernatural causation, irreducible complexity had other better explanations, and it was not established through peer-reviewed scientific studies. In other words, “ID was just a legally savvy version of creationism” ‘

    ‘creationism as a cultural battle against science that demeans religion, then ID joins at the hip with creationism. It is “only superficially different from traditional creationism, while its morally outraged rhetoric is identical to it” (90). (Rosenhouse has a whole chp, chp 16, on the “unsavory rhetorical practices” of ID.’

    To me these above statements ar as much a piece of ‘(theist) evolutionist’ or ‘secular evolutionist’ propaganda as it is ID with ‘its rethorical practices’ a piece of creationist propaganda. The Dover process proved that ID is non-science? Who said that? And who decided that? Barbara Forrest? Why would she been more qualified that Michael Behe (for example) to have on opinion about the results of Dover process?
    What results had the Dover process? Ask Ken Miller and he will give you an answer. Ask Mike Behe and he will give you another answer. My problem is this: Mr. Rosenhause might have read Miller’s comments on ID and Dover’s conclusions; But did he take pains to read also Behe’s comments on Miller’s comments too?

  • Monimonika


    Barbara Forrest was the one who investigated the history of the ID textbook “Of Pandas and People” that was recommended by the Dover School Board to its students. The result was the discovery of clear evidence that earlier drafts of the text for “Of Pandas and People” used creationist language and had been revised to using ID language a few months after the ruling against teaching creation science in Edwards v Aguillard. Of the revisions made, there were simple find-and-replace of the words such as, “creationism” and “creationist”, to “intelligent design” and “design proponent” in the text and the most damning find was “cdesign proponentsists” among the drafts.

    Given that not much else of the text was changed from the original (same arguments, slightly different wording in some sentences), it was obvious the most prominent ID textbook was, literally, rehashed creationism (which was ruled as non-science earlier by the Supreme Court). ID didn’t get ruled as non-science just because of this alone, but it did play a very significant part.