Friday, February 22, 2013

Is ID Creationism?

A piece at Evolution News caused me to reflect on media coverage of the debates between Darwinian materialists, i.e. those who believe that life arose through purely natural processes and forces, and Intelligent Design (ID) theorists who maintain that however life arose it required the input of an intelligent agent.

One of the unfortunate aspects of the media's coverage of this controversy is the inability, or unwillingness, of more than a few of those who report on it to accurately portray ID. Their most common error is to conflate ID with creationism, and it's done so often that one gets the feeling that it must be intentional. The difference between these two views is significant, and, though it seems to have eluded the grasp of many journalists, it's not at all difficult to comprehend.

Creationism starts with the Genesis account in the Bible and seeks to show that the scientific evidence can be made to conform to that account. As such, creationism is essentially a theological program. It seeks to defend the truth of the Genesis narrative. ID, on the other hand, starts with the empirical data proffered by the architecture of both the cosmos and the living cell and argues that the best explanation for that data must include intelligent agency.

Creationists maintain that the designer of life and the cosmos is the God of the Bible who created the world by fiat in accord with the Genesis account. Though many IDers personally agree with this, as scientists and philosophers they make no formal claims about who or what the designer is, how the designer created, nor how long ago it all happened. As such, ID is compatible with creationism, but it's not identical to it. Whereas creationism uses scientific data to buttress a religious hypothesis, ID derives from the scientific data a critique of the metaphysical doctrine of materialism and also infers from that data a counterclaim of a cosmic mind.

Another way to illustrate the difference between them is this: If it were shown that the first two chapters of Genesis were completely wrong it would devastate creationism but it would not have any effect at all on ID. ID isn't contingent upon the truth of Genesis. It depends instead on the empirical data uncovered by scientists working in their laboratories and observatories and the validity of the inference from that evidence to the conclusion of intentional design.

Another aspect of the debate that too many reporters don't seem to understand is that there's no conflict between ID and evolution, indeed there are notable IDers who are themselves evolutionists. The conflict is between ID and Darwinian - i.e. naturalistic or materialistic - evolution. Darwinian evolution holds that natural processes and forces are sufficient to account for the appearance of the enormous quantity of complex information needed to run a living cell. IDers assert, on the contrary, that natural processes and forces are not adequate to account for high levels of biological information and that in addition to whatever natural processes may have been at work there must also have been an intelligent agent which somehow engineered, directed, and superintended these processes.

If people are going to make informed decisions about these matters they need to be correctly informed. The media could help in that effort by accurately distinguishing between the various points of view competing for our allegiance. It shouldn't be hard, at least not for reporters who are willing to suppress their own biases and objectively and fairly report the facts.