Principled (not Rhetorical) Reasons Why ID Doesn't Identify the Designer (Part 2) - Evolution News & Views

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Principled (not Rhetorical) Reasons Why ID Doesn't Identify the Designer (Part 2)

In Part 1 I discussed the principled reasons that ID proponents offer to explain why ID does not identify the designer: "while biological structures may be scientifically explained via intelligent design, the structures themselves have no way of directly telling us whether the designer is Yahweh, Buddha, Yoda, or some other type of intelligent agency." Unfortunately, some critics have misunderstood this point as implying that ID proponents are completely silent about who they believe the designer is, or that ID proponents deny the possibility that the designer could be God. This very misconception was printed in an article co-authored by Barbara Forrest that was published in a legal journal:

First- and second-generation creationists were quite willing to acknowledge who they believe designed the world. Proponents of intelligent design creationism, on the other hand, vociferously deny that the intelligent designer they postulate is equivalent to God, and in their statements to the general public they often deny taking any position at all on the nature of the world's designer. ... [P]roponents of intelligent design cannot acknowledge to the general public (much less to courts) the true identity of their intelligent designer.

(Matthew J. Brauer, Barbara Forrest, Steven G. Gey, "Is It Science Yet?: Intelligent Design Creationism and the Constitution," Washington University Law Quarterly, Vol. 83(1) (2005).)

Brauer, Forrest and Gey seem to miss the fact that ID proponents have been extremely open to the general public about their views on the identity of the designer. Incredibly, the subsequent sections in Forrest et al.'s article include citations to sources where ID proponents make public statements on their views on the identity of the designer:

  • In a public source cited by Forrest et al., Phillip Johnson writes in a very public book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, that he sees "God as our true Creator." (pg. 92)
  • In a public source cited by Forrest et al., Paul Nelson (as well as theistic evolutionist paleontologist Keith Miller) signed a public statement agreeing that "God is the creator of all things."
  • In a public source cited by Forrest et al., William Dembski publicly stated, "As a Christian, I am a theist and believe that God created the world."
  • Forrest et al. admit that Michael Behe's "Darwin's Black Box [was] written for a general audience" and cite it multiple times in their article, yet it is in this very book Behe specifically states that he is "a Roman Catholic." (pg. 239)

    Behe elsewhere gives some of the principled reasons I previously discussed why ID does not identify the designer:

    most people (including myself) will attribute the design to God--based in part on other, non-scientific judgments they have made--I did not claim that the biochemical evidence leads ineluctably to a conclusion about who the designer is. In fact, I directly said that, from a scientific point of view, the question remains open. ... I did not claim that the biochemical evidence leads ineluctably to a conclusion about who the designer is. The biochemical evidence strongly indicates design, but does not show who the designer was.
    Thus, when ID proponents state that ID does not identify the designer, they are, in Behe's words, "not being coy, but only limiting ... claims to what ... the evidence will support." Indeed, contrary to Forrest et al.'s assertion, Behe volunteered his views on this matter in court during the Kitzmiller trial at the very beginning of his direct examination:
    Q. So is it accurate for people to claim or to represent that intelligent design holds that the designer was God?
    A. No, that is completely inaccurate.
    Q. Well, people have asked you your opinion as to who you believe the designer is, is that correct?
    A. That is right.
    Q. Has science answered that question?
    A. No, science has not done so.
    Q. And I believe you have answered on occasion that you believe the designer is God, is that correct?
    A. Yes, that's correct.
    Q. Are you making a scientific claim with that answer?
    A. No, I conclude that based on theological and philosophical and historical factors.

    (Michael Behe, October 17 Testimony, AM Session.)

    It's worth noting that not all ID proponents identify the designer as God. For example, in 2004 UCLA neuroscientist Jeffrey Schwartz spoke in favor of intelligent design, and he identified himself as a "Buddhist Jew." The philosopher Antony Flew provides another notable example of an ID-proponent who is not a traditional theist. And I have other colleagues in the ID movement who are entirely agnostic about the identity of the designer. But for ID proponents who are traditional theists, like Behe, Nelson, Dembski, or Johnson, science is a way of knowing, and as a scientific theory, ID informs us that life was designed. Their view that the designer is God is something they wholeheartedly believe, but it comes from a knowledge source other than science; it comes from other ways of knowing -- from non-scientific sources of knowledge outside of intelligent design. Their views about the identity of the designer are their own personal religious beliefs and do not come from the scientific theory of ID. Phillip Johnson makes this distinction perfectly clear:
    "[M]y personal view is that I identify the designer of life with the God of the Bible, although intelligent design theory as such does not entail that."

    (Phillip E. Johnson, "Intelligent Design in Biology: the Current Situation and Future Prospects," Think (The Royal Institute of Philosophy), 2007)

    In fact, I too believe the designer is the God of the Bible, but this is not a conclusion of ID; it is my personal religious view that stems from factors outside of intelligent design.

    Blinded by Scientism
    How could Forrest, Gey and Brauer miss such obvious refutations of their claim that ID proponents "vociferously deny that the intelligent designer they postulate is equivalent to God"? I'll try to give a charitable explanation.

    Forrest et al. may make this mistake because they adhere to scientism, the view that science is the only valid source of knowledge. In fact Forrest is a secular humanist who strongly supports scientism, writing that that the greater the naturalistic account, the less likely supernaturalism becomes and that "the relationship between methodological and philosophical naturalism, while not one of logical entailment, is the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion."

    So basically, Forrest believes that science is the only way to gain real knowledge. Perhaps her scientism is so deeply ingrained that she mistakenly thought that everything ID proponents believe about the designer must be a conclusion of intelligent design. Perhaps Forrest et al. cannot consciously make the distinction between knowledge that comes from scientific sources and knowledge that comes from non-scientific sources because they believe that all real knowledge must come from science. In other words, perhaps they forgot, as Ken Miller rightly stated during the Dover trial, that "everything that a scientist writes or says is not necessarily a scientific statement or a scientific publication." (Kitzmiller Testimony of Kenneth Miller, Sept. 26 AM, pgs. 55-56.)

    Regardless of whether my hypothesis explaining Forrest et al.'s mistake is correct, they have promoted a false conspiracy that ID proponents are trying to hide their views on the identity of the designer. Ironically, Forrest et al. use the public statements where ID proponents state their belief in God as a misplaced attempt to prove that ID is religion. They want you to simultaneously believe that ID is religion because ID proponents have publicly stated they believe the designer is God, and that ID proponents dishonestly deny that the designer is God. Their argument contradicts itself, and they cannot have it both ways. But after these two posts on this topic, perhaps the third way--the correct way--is clear:

  • ID does not address religious questions about the identity of the designer, and in fact ID proponents have diverse views about the identity of the designer;
  • ID proponents give principled reasons why ID does not identify the designer, stemming from ID's intent to respect the limits of science and not attempt to address religious questions that go beyond what can be scientifically inferred from the empirical data;
  • Whether traditional theists or not, ID proponents are entirely open about their views on the identity of the designer;
  • ID proponents make it clear that their views about the identity of the designer are their personal religious views, and not conclusions of ID.


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