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Richard Dawkins Misrepresents Position of Intelligent Design Proponents on the Identity of the Designer

What does the media do if you are Richard Dawkins and you make some embarrassing statements in a movie that basically gives away the store on intelligent design? Apparently, at the LA Times, they let you print 1000+ word op-eds. In his recent op-ed against intelligent design (ID), Dawkins writes the following about the identity of the designer: "Intelligent design 'theorists' (a misnomer, for they have no theory) often use the alien scenario to distance themselves from old-style creationists: 'For all we know, the designer might be an alien from outer space.'" He then claims that "All the leading intelligent design spokesmen are devout, and, when talking to the faithful, they drop the science-fiction fig leaf and expose themselves as the fundamentalist creationists they truly are." So I decided to determine if this was how ID proponents really behaved. A Google search for the phrase "For all we know, the designer might be an alien from outer space"--which Dawkins attributes to ID proponents--turns up only one hit: his article. Of course ID proponents have made it clear that the theory of intelligent design permits the possibility of a natural designer, but the question must be asked, are ID proponents coy about their personal views on the identity of the designer?

  • Phillip Johnson writes in a very public book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, that he sees "God as our true Creator" (pg. 92).

  • Paul Nelson (as well as theistic evolutionist paleontologist Keith Miller) signed a public statement agreeing that "God is the creator of all things."

  • William Dembski publicly stated, "As a Christian, I am a theist and believe that God created the world."

    Of course Dawkins is wrong to assert that believing that God is the designer makes you an "old-style creationist" or "fundamentalist creationist." In his best-selling book, Darwin's Black Box, Michael Behe specifically states that he is "a Roman Catholic" (pg. 239) who accepts common descent and sees no conflict between evolution and faith. In fact, Behe has explicitly stated his view that the designer is God in the same places where he acknowledges that ID does not foreclose the possibility of a natural designer:

    "[Intelligent design] is not an argument for the existence of a benevolent God, as Paley's was. I hasten to add that I myself do believe in a benevolent God, and I recognize that philosophy and theology may be able to extend the argument. But a scientific argument for design in biology does not reach that far. Thus while I argue for design, the question of the identity of the designer is left open. Possible candidates for the role of designer include: the God of Christianity; an angel--fallen or not; Plato's demi-urge; some mystical new age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or some utterly unknown intelligent being. Of course, some of these possibilities may seem more plausible than others based on information from fields other than science. Nonetheless, as regards the identity of the designer, modern ID theory happily echoes Isaac Newton's phrase hypothesis non fingo.

    (Michael Behe, "The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis," Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2001), pg. 165, emphasis added.)

    Behe elsewhere explains the principled reasons 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, 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, and contrary to Dawkins, not "all the leading intelligent design spokesmen are devout." The famous atheist philosopher Antony Flew provides a 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.

    After seeing this evidence, it seems that Dawkins' has misrepresented whether ID proponents are open about their views on the identity of the designer to the public, and the truth is as follows:

  • 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.