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Misframing Intelligent Design: Falsely Painting ID Advocates as Anti-Science

Over at First Things, Christopher Benson posted a taxonomy, created by BioLogos, of various viewpoints in the debate over origins. Mr. Benson calls the taxonomy "helpful" -- but in my view it would have been much more helpful if it had at least accurately described intelligent design (ID). Below is segment one of a slightly edited version of the comment I posted at his "Evangel" blog at First Things:

I appreciate Mr. Benson's recognition that the "two sides" description of the debate over origins is inadequate. However, he calls the BioLogos taxonomy "helpful" when in fact it pretty badly misrepresents ID. The folks at BioLogos are welcome to disagree with ID. But if they wish to give a dry description of what ID is and what it says, it would be "helpful" if their description were accurate. Rather, what purports to be a description is really just a recapitulation of the critics' version of ID, with a subtle framing of terms to exclude ID's proponents from the scientific community. It does not describe ID as its proponents have actually formulated their position. Let's look at BioLogos's statements in the "taxonomy":

1. "Intelligent design (ID) proponents believe that much of modern science is wrong and must be rejected because of its naturalism."

Response: ID finds its supporting evidence in two primary areas: cosmology/physics and biology. In cosmology, ID accepts essentially all tenets of the standard Big Bang cosmological model and finds many lines of evidence that point to cosmic fine tuning and intelligent design (for example, see The Privileged Planet). In fact, some leading thinkers at BioLogos like Francis Collins agree with ID on cosmology and find merit in arguments for cosmic design. So when it comes to physics and cosmology, it's definitely wrong to say that ID proponents "believe that much of modern science is wrong." BioLogos gives no hint that individuals like Francis Collins or Ken Miller have endorsed cosmic fine-tuning arguments, which have long been a mainstay of ID thinking.

What about biology? Of course this is where BioLogos disagrees sharply with ID. That's fine, but it is not fine to inaccurately describe ID's relationship to mainstream biology. In fact, ID's disagreements with mainstream biological thought are very limited in scope. ID dissents from the majority on two points: (1) the claim that undirected material processes are sufficient to explain the origin of life, and (2) the neo-Darwinian claim that undirected, blind natural selection acting upon random mutations can serve as the primary driving force for generating the adaptive complexity of life. Of course there are other more specific disagreements that follow from these two, but even within the topic of origins ID accepts evolution as "change over time" and does not intrinsically challenge common ancestry. (Some ID proponents, like some evolutionists, now question universal common descent.)

BioLogos's claim that ID rejects "much of modern science" is a gross overstatement designed to make ID look extremist. ID accepts virtually all of modern biology apart from the points I've just noted. And those represent merely a tiny part of science. Despite what the Darwin lobby claims, neo-Darwinism is not the end-all be-all of modern science. As U.S. National Academy of Sciences member Phil Skell writes, "the claim that [Darwinian evolution] is the cornerstone of modern experimental biology will be met with quiet skepticism from a growing number of scientists in fields where theories actually do serve as cornerstones for tangible breakthroughs."

ID proponents do not deserve the fringe-treatment they are being given by BioLogos. Did Richard Sternberg, who hold two PhD's in fields related to evolution, earn his degrees by rejecting "much of modern science"? Does Ralph Seelke at the University of Wisconsin, Superior, researching the limits to bacterial evolution, reject "much of modern science"? How about Guillermo Gonzalez, who fled Cuba to come to the U.S. and got a PhD at the University of Washington, and then discovered multiple extrasolar planets? Does he reject "much of modern science"?

What is more, BioLogos's comment implies that the only view within "science" is the consensus neo-Darwinian view. This is unfortunate, and reflects the typical 'no concession policy' among staunch partisans of the Darwin lobby who refuse to acknowledge the many PhD scientists dissent from the neo-Darwinian paradigm.

Finally, BioLogos's framing suggests that ID's disagreements with the consensus are based upon a philosophical view that certain ideas "must be rejected because of [their] naturalism," and thus not on scientific arguments. Again, this reflects poorly on BioLogos if they are trying to accurately describe ID: Whether you agree with ID or not, you can't deny that ID proponents have spent a lot of energy making scientific (not merely philosophical) criticisms of neo-Darwinism. BioLogos tries to frame ID as an entirely philosophical critique. That is simply inaccurate.

I will point out two other areas where Benson misrepresents what intelligent design really is in upcoming posts.