Intelligent design is a controversial movement, especially in academic settings. In some circles, it is difficult to have a civil discussion about the issues at the heart of the debate. Even on many Christian colleges, institutions where you would expect ID to receive a warm welcome, reception is often lukewarm at best.
Just earlier this year, Michael Behe—one of the pioneers of the ID movement—released his latest book exploring related themes, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA that Challenges Evolution. Behe is a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University. Imagine that your new book has just hit the shelves, only for you to discover that colleagues at your own institution and in your own department have published a scathing review. That is what happened to Behe when two of his colleagues took strong exception to his book in the journal Evolution.Gregory Lang and Amber Rice, “Evolution Unscathed: Darwin Devolves Argues on Weak Reasoning that Unguided Evolution is a Destructive Force, Incapable of Innovation,” Evolution 73-4 (2019): 862-68. This kind of high drama is just the tip of the iceberg. Emotions run high when it comes to intelligent design.
What is going on here? It’s a long story, but the plot twist is simple: ID is a Trojan Horse. At least that is what critics have been saying, indeed shouting from the rooftops. They think ID scholars are subversively injecting religious ideology into science education in the US.ID scholars also deny that their theory is a religious wolf in scientific clothing. Intelligent design, they insist, is a scientific not religious hypothesis. Knowing that American constitutional law prevents any teaching of religious beliefs in its public institutions, Christians stripped their creationism of any theology and then refinished it with a coat of intelligent design. As the judge put it in his 2005 Dover decision, “An objective observer would know that ID and teaching about ‘gaps’ and ‘problems’ in evolutionary theory are creationist, religious strategies that evolved from earlier forms of creationism.”Judge John E. Jones III, “Memorandum and Order, October 24, 2005,” Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District, 18. Intelligent design is creationism dressed up to look pretty, an act of bad faith. So the critics say.
Obviously, that is only one side of the story. Since naturalism reigns over the scientific establishment, it is hardly surprising that people are saying such rancorous things about intelligent design. At one level, it is a struggle over the very idea of natural science, what it means, what it doesn’t mean, and—most importantly—who gets to say. Intelligent design challenges naturalism to the core and promotes instead a richer, truer, more holistic science.
ID scholars also deny that their theory is a religious wolf in scientific clothing. Intelligent design, they insist, is a scientific not religious hypothesis. In his testimony at the Dover trial, Behe “indicated that ID is only a scientific, as opposed to a religious, project for him.”Ibid., 28. Intelligent design, as William Dembski explains, “has no prior religious commitments and interprets the data of science on generally accepted scientific principles. In particular, intelligent design does not depend on the biblical account of creation.”William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 247. These judgments reflect the consistent position of ID advocates from the very beginning.
This dispute between ID and its critics points to deeper issues at the interface of science and theology. The present Areopagite seeks to use this debate as the occasion to press beyond stale slogans into genuine understanding. To that end, we have invited five ID scholars to answer this question: If ID science is not religiously motivated, why hasn’t it gained traction among mainstream scientists?
The online format mirrors the earlier iterations of evolutionary creationism and old earth creationism. Following the first round of responses, my Redirect will pose questions prompted by the five responses. The participants will then return for a second round of final rejoinders, which will close out the symposium. There is much to unpack in what promises to be a stimulating exchange, one that we hope will bring more light than heat.